In Iraq, Split Over Maliki Hinges on Religious Divide

Ayatollah Issues Fatwa Against Secular Candidates

Fury of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s hasn’t subsided over the past few months, and there remains a significant movement, centering around Kurdistan and the secular Iraqiya bloc, that is determined to see him replaced.

The anger against Maliki is two-fold, focusing¬†on both his attempts to centralize military power under his direct control (naming himself the Interior, Defense, and National Security Ministers and also the chief of military staff) and his efforts to arrest key political rivals, including Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, as “terrorists.”

In the end though, the decision on Maliki may end up hinging on the secular-religious divide in Iraqi society, with Ayatollah al-Haeri issuing a Fatwa today insisting that it was forbidden to support any secular candidates. Though based in Iran, Haeri is hugely influential within the Iraqi National Alliance, and could forestall efforts by Moqtada al-Sadr to try to oust him.

Both Sadr’s bloc and Maliki’s State of Law bloc are Shi’ite religious blocs, but have clashed on a number of issues. Sadrist MPs have hinted that they are planning to nominate potential replacements for Maliki, but the fatwa may make it difficult to nominate anybody lacking serious religious support, while anyone with the religious credentials might struggle to gain the support of the secular, mostly Sunni blocs.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of