Abbas Al-Jamri , Bahraini journalist (based in UK)

What is the approach that Sayyed Sistani establishes to protect Iraq?

May 21, 2023 - 20:58

Iraq’s supreme religious leader, Sayyed Ali Sistani, performs his authority based on two intricate recitals. The first is that he is a moderate religious cleric; supervises hundreds of charitable and service projects worldwide; as well tens of millions of Shiites around the world follow him. As for the second recital, he has the right to veto -which is neither codified nor stipulated by law- on the level of Iraqi affairs.

Indeed, the second recital is too detailed as Sayyed Sistani’s theological brilliance is due to his apprenticeship at the hands of the late Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei.  A period of shocking events followed, particularly when the terrorist organisation (ISIS) - supported by major & regional countries - would have taken control of Iraq had it not been for his fatwa on the obligation of competent jihad in June 2014.

This remarkable rise of Sayyed Sistani was not surprising due to the methodology that he has long been following as a Hawza of Najaf figure, and a calm scholar who changes the course of events with his brief instructions. Here, I will not go on describing the scene as much as I will try to analyse the second recital according to the security context that governs the region.

It is known that tens of thousands of American soldiers are deployed in the Gulf; strategic aircraft -such as B52 aircraft- are stationed in Qatar and other bases.  Spy planes are also stationed in the UAE and others at the bases of Ain al-Assad and Anbar in Iraq, as well the Fifth Fleet is managed from Bahrain, and there are highly active and technical espionage centres in Erbil.

If the region is under US -security, military, and intelligence- hegemony, then what is the approach that Sayyed Sistani deems necessary to preserve the security of Iraq, which is already a turbulent country torn apart by violent political tensions?

According to the ‘Sistani approach’, the supreme religious authority adopts a strategy of walking on the edges of contradictions.  Of course, this approach requires high knowledge and wisdom so as not to cross two main taboos. The first taboo is to act far beyond the red lines of the rivals in the region in general and in Iraq in particular.  As for the second taboo, it is complacency in the supreme Iraqi interest represented in national security, which is reflected in its territorial integrity and safety.

Apparently, Sayyed Sistani wields serious efforts to build a wise system that has a Hawzawi veto to prevent tampering in the Iraqi depths.

This delicate dimension has not only been represented in preventing the spread of ISIS and its encroachment on the security and military dimensions but has also curbed the monster of corruption through the Friday disciplining platform.

Indeed, this platform has established its own lines in the formation of Iraqi governments despite being characterised by obvious defects. Reducing the spread of corruption became evident -especially- in the wake of the critical consensus between the various parties and the formation of Mohammed Shiaa al-Sudani’s cabinet. 

Sayyed Sistani has also curbed a civil war that almost broke out more than once due to the clashes between the Sadrist movement and the rest of the other forces at different periods of Iraq’s modern history, with clear interference from regional parties.

This matter has obviously established as prominent position for the ninety-year-old cleric, represented in him being the guarantee and safety valve for the Iraqi Republic, which has exhausted as a result of the successive and harsh circumstances.

If we try to extract the features that influence Iraq, we can say that there are two parties: Sayyed Sistani versus the US.  If it was said that Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Emirates, Turkey, and other countries are involved in Iraq’s political storm, this does not change the conclusion, because Iran will not be on a side that does not include Sayyed Sistani, just as the other countries will not be on a side that is not led by the US.

This detail confirms the difficult and complex task of the religious authority in Najaf, who frames his highly cautious movement with the controls of patience and wisdom because he has a paternal position that should be strictly preserved and retained.

This does not mean that Iraq is no longer a ticking bomb, or that it has passed the danger of civil war.  Nor does it mean that America is no longer leading some threads in the political game. Denying all of these facts does not represent any kind of accurate reading of the geopolitical map of this country, but it is true to say that Sayyed Sistani has exceptionally thwarted the many plots seeking to drag Iraq into the abyss and disintegration.

Here a weighty question pops up: Are those positive features that Sayyed Sistani assumes are represented in his person only, so that if he were destined to pass away, the bead of safety for Iraq fall apart?

This question is imperative to comprehend the future scene that Sayyed Sistani foresees as he realises the danger of linking Iraq’s safety to his person exclusively. This has prompted him to build solid bridges between the active factions and Najaf, in order to ensure the continuity of the hawza’s influence on the political decision and the public, which prevents tampering again in the Iraqi arena by the concerned countries and their affiliated parties.

It is possible to understand this by approaching the role of Sayyed Mohammad Ridah; various virtuous scholars have attested to his seminary knowledge, in addition to his social and political experience, and his extensive relations with various parties, whether at the level of the seminary in Najaf or at the level of active and influential regional personalities in the Iraqi scene. Thus, the acceptability he enjoys qualifies him to play an active, large and influential role.

In addition, preparing balanced personalities to support Sayyed Sistani and bear the burden of the religious authority actually guarantees the extension of the influence of the reference. It also completes its approach and path and establishes its necessity.  So, Sayyed Sistani has established an approach that a number of people and entities bear its burden -if God destined that he passes away. This insightful preparation would definitely prevent the exploitation of any loophole that may lead Iraq to the abyss.

Leave a Comment