When will Marjiya Intervene in the Current Iraqi Political Crisis?

Mohammed Shummary

Since the early parliamentary elections on the 10th of October 2021, Iraq has witnessed a severe political crisis, described by some as a political stalemate. All attempts that sought to find approaches to mediate have failed amid the intransigence of the various parties and their adherence to their opposing positions, at a time while the country is witnessing successive security, economic, societal, health and environmental crises, which have complicated the existing scene, and speculation has increased that this complication may lead to the explosion of demonstrations and the possibility of large-scale violence. Amid all this, all eyes are on the Marjiya (Supreme Shiite Authority) of Najaf, which many believe can interfere to resolve matters, end the political crisis, and spare the country the risk of slipping into violence.

Intervention to Maintain Public Order

Many believe that the basic principle adopted by the Marjiya to intervene in public affairs is “maintaining public order”. Whenever there is a pivotal shift or a serious threat to the public order of the country, the Marjiya has intervened to the extent that puts things on balanced tracks that prevent slipping into chaos and threatening people’s lives. This has many historical evidence, perhaps the clearest of which was what happened after 2003, starting from the stage of establishing the new regime 2003-2006, whether in dealing with foreign forces, or in the directions of preparing for the new constitution, the election of the National Assembly, and all the way to the election of the first parliament and the formation of the first government with full authorities.

The Marjiya practiced the approach of advice and guidance through various stages with no intervention. In many cases it expressed its rage towards the political and governmental performance and the situation reached the point of refraining from receiving politicians and statesmen. However, in 2014, when the country was facing the greatest challenge since the toppling of the former regime, the Marjiya’s intervention was in two cases. The first was when the great collapse occurred when ISIS controlled Iraqi cities, one after the other, and reached the outskirts of the capital, Baghdad, so the Marjiya issued a fatwa for “Sufficient Jihad”. The second was complementary, when the political crisis and the delay in forming the new government after the 2014 elections seemed to face great complication that is now having a negative impact on the efforts to confront ISIS. It has responded to the message of the Islamic Dawa Party about the importance of choosing a “new prime minister” and ending the possibility of disrupting the internal front in the situation of confrontation and seeking to liberate the cities.

Starting from 2016 to 2019 and thereafter, popular demonstrations escalated against the mismanagement and corruption that are rampant in the country, which culminated with hundreds of civilians were killed in those demonstrations. At the time, assessments differed between those who hold the government forces directly responsible, and those who accuse uncontrolled parties of causing these events. The Marjiya then intervened, calling for a response to the protesters’ demands and holding the political class responsible, all the way to calling on Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign, paving the way for early elections in October 2021.

Messages, Speeches, and Fatwas: Mechanisms for Dealing with Public Affairs

The political class in Iraq used to communicate with the Marjiya by sending direct or indirect messages, through which it tries to explain its visions and evaluation of various positions, and to ask clarifying the position. In most cases the result was not responding or responding with no position, which was generally explained that the Marjiya does not want to interfere or at best it leaves the matter to decision makers. In other cases, specifically in dealing with some international bodies, such as the visits of the SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations), the visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and the visit of the Pope of the Vatican, official statements were issued that included indications, described as clear, of its position on political developments, without implying direct intervention.

On the other hand, the Supreme Religious Authority has always adopted the Friday prayer pulpit in Karbala to express its official or implicit positions. Friday speeches have witnessed written messages expressing the official position of the Marjiya, and they are received written from the office of Imam Al-Sistani, according to Ahmed Al-Safi, the representative of the Marjiya in Karbala. The climax of these positions was the issuance of the fatwa for ‘Sufficient Jihad’ against ISIS. The fatwa includes the highest level of obligation for Shiite Muslims, not only in Iraq, but all around the world, where the Supreme Marjie, Imam Al-Sistani, enjoys the highest percentage of the Shiite followers around the world. While the speeches also include general directions, they are now seen as expressing the general directions of the Marjiya and the various parties are busy analyzing them and trying to conclude those directions from them. These speeches stopped with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and were not repeated despite the return of group prayers after the threat of the pandemic had passed. Some explain this as expressing the Marjiya’s tendency to stress its position not to intervene and to find a clear distance separating it from political interactions.

Will the Marjiya Intervene in the Current Political Crisis?

In addition to the Marjiya’s adherence to the principle it adopts “maintaining public order”, there are concerns that reduce the possibility of the Marjiya’s intervention in public political affairs, specifically in the current political crisis, despite the great complication of the crisis and its continuation for months. Perhaps at the forefront of these concerns is that there is a possibility that the political parties will not adhere partially or in whole to any position that may be issued by the Marjiya as happened in previous times when the Marjiya, through Friday speeches, addressed the issue of reform and countering corruption.

On the other hand, such as the increasing criticism directed at the Marjiya for being the one who sponsored the current political elite and for being the supporter of the establishment of a political system that has become unable to perform, with a political process whose main feature has become the successive crises. Another concern related to the position and prestige of the Marjiya among the general Shiite public. Also, a direct response from the Marjiya in the current political crisis would raise the public’s expectations from merely addressing the crisis of government formation, to being responsible for addressing the dilemma of government performance, in which the political formulas and the existing objective conditions do not seem to allow for progress in it, at least in the medium term.

Therefore, it is unlikely that there will be intervention from the Marjiya in the current political crisis, considering the current situation. However, there is a common belief that the Marjiya is monitoring the situation closely, and evaluating the possibility of its intervention in light of developments, and the intervention’s motives may be related to a development on one of the three following conditions:

  1. The political crisis could develop into an armed confrontation between its parties, which would lead to people’s bloodshed, which has become described as the possibility of a Shiite-Shiite clash.
  2. A major security breakdown that could occur, threatening people’s lives and the safety of holy places, similar to what happened when ISIS invaded the Iraqi provinces.
  3. A development that would threaten the stability of the country’s public order and threaten to cause large-scale chaos.

Till this moment, it does not seem that the tracks of the situation carry the possibility of such developments to occur, despite the expectation of an escalation of popular demonstrations, whether non-political ones, or supported by certain political parties. As a result, the various political parties bear the responsibility of finding solutions to the crises that the Iraqi situation suffers from generally, politically, as well as in various other fields.

Mohammed Shummary:  Founder and CEO of SUMERIA.