Ashaq Alawsat reported Monday that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani had sent a message to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticizing Quds Force Commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani’s role in Iraqi politics. The report said Sistani questioned Khamenei “whether (Soleimani’s interventions in Iraqi politics) had happened under Khamenei’s instruction or through Soleimani’s own independent actions.” (Ashaq Alawsat/Now, 7 September)
In late August, Gen. Soleimani appeared at a meeting of Iraqi National Alliance parliamentary coalition of Shia parties, reportedly criticizing Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s proposed reforms, especially Abadi’s plans to sack former PM Nouri al-Maliki. The meeting ended with an acrimonious exchange between Soleimani and Abadi. Ashaq Alawsat had reported on 26 August that Abadi “objected strongly” when Soleimani criticized the reforms he was pushing through parliament.
Sistani’s frustration over Soleimani’s role in Iraq manifests differences between Najaf clerical establishment and the Islamic Republic. Sistani has forcefully defended Abadi’s reform proposals and Soleimani’s public criticism of the reforms, in a meeting attended by the prime minister and over 70 Shia MPs, has broken protocols of public deference to Sistani, Iraqi Shia spiritual leader, which could affect Najaf’s historic role.
Among recent differences between Sistani and the Iranians is Sistani’s insistence that fighting corruption is a religious and legal duty of all Shias, including the trial of Maliki if needed. Soleimani's, and probably Khamenei's, approach to Abadi’s reform focuses on the political dimensions of the issue, thinking holding to account of corrupt figures, i.e. Maliki, would undermine Shia power in the country.
After a report by the Iraqi parliament on 17 August blamed Maliki and top commanders for the fall of Mosul to ISIL last year, Iran extended Maliki a show of support, hosting him for a visit to Tehran on 19 August, two days after the parliamentary report. During his visit, Maliki met with Khamenei, with photos of the event widely published by the media.
Photo credit: Portrait of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s Shia spiritual leader (Ahmad al-Rubaya/AFP)