Iraq Cabinet Failures Set Up Struggle Among Shi’ite Religious Leaders

Sistani Backed Abadi Cabinet, Key Iran Ayatollahs Against It

Another day goes by, and another battle at Iraq’s parliament ends with the session being cancelled, and no vote on Prime Minister Hayder Abadi’s cabinet taking place. It looks unlikely that a vote will happen, and with strong opposition, the cabinet probably can’t pass anyhow.

While on the surface this is being presented as the inevitable consequence of failed power-sharing deals, some analysts are suggesting that the real fight is actually among the Shi’ite majority itself, with Iraqi religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani lined up in opposition to top Iranian Shi’ites.

Sistani was quick to endorse the technocrat parliament idea, and historically that would be enough to ensure virtually all the Shi’ite MPs voting for it. That didn’t happen this time, as former PM Nouri al-Maliki’s supporters are almost uniformly against the cabinet.

Former PM Ayad Allawi sees that as no accident, saying he believes the Iranian ayatollahs are setting up Maliki as a foil for Abadi. Maliki is seen as closer to the Shi’ite militia factions, which are themselves backed heavily by Iran.

While Iran’s clergy has long had influence in Iraq, in no small part because Sistani has avoided being too political, growing corruption in government has him looking to assert himself more. As he does, however, he’s seeing the Shi’ite political majority in Iraq split pretty dramatically down the middle.Where this will end up remains to be seen.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of