First Published: 2015-08-15

Iraq leader orders judicial reform requested by Ayatollah Sistani
Abadi announces reform programme in response to weeks of protests and to call from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for ‘drastic change.’
Middle East Online

BAGHDAD - Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called Friday for the judiciary to undertake "drastic" reforms to allow it to fight corruption, after the country's top Shiite cleric said such measures were required.

Abadi announced a reform programme in response to weeks of protests and to a call from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for drastic change, and said judicial reforms requested by the cleric were needed to carry the measures out.

Calls for change by Sistani, who is revered by millions, have shielded as well as influenced Abadi's efforts, as it is politically risky for rival Shiite politicians to publicly oppose measures called for by the top cleric.

And the demonstrations -- which continued on Friday, with thousands of people turning out in Baghdad and the south -- also serve as an impetus for change.

Abadi called Friday for "the judicial authority to undertake a series of drastic measures to guarantee judicial prestige and independence and allow it to fight corruption," his office said.

He said such measures are necessary for implementing his proposed reforms, which are aimed at curbing corruption, streamlining the government and improving services.

"The wide reforms I called for require a just and impartial and firm judiciary to support these reforms," Abadi said.

Earlier Friday, Sistani welcomed Abadi's proposed reforms but said more were required.

"We appreciate that, and hope that these decisions are implemented in the near future," Sistani said in remarks delivered by his representative Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai.

"We would like to point out that one of the most important requirements of the reform process... is reforming the judiciary, as it is an important pillar in completing the package of reforms, and there cannot be true reform without it," he said.

Amid a major heatwave that has seen temperatures top 50 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit), protesters railed for weeks against corruption and the poor quality of services, especially power outages that leave just a few hours of government-supplied electricity per day.

On Friday, thousands of people turned out for a festive demonstration in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, expressing support for Abadi's reform drive while calling on him to do more.

The demonstrators waved Iraqi flags and criticised most politicians, while praising Abadi.

They chanted slogans including "Out, out, you are all thieves," and "No promises, no guarantees, we want the dissolution of the parliament."

But of Abadi, they said: "Oh Haider, march, march, we are all with you in Tahrir."

Some carried pictures of the premier with the text "All the people are with you."

Images of other politicians were also present, but with their faces crossed out in red.

"Abadi gets his power from the people, and now he has wide acceptance from us, and he has the support of the Marjaiya (Shiite religious leadership)," said activist Mohammed Jabbar.

"He does not have any excuse; he should implement the reforms."

"The first reforms are acceptable, but we want more. We want to try the corrupt and get back the Iraqi money that was wasted," he said, also calling for the reform of the judiciary.

Other demonstrators demanded changes including a government of technocrats, and for all the current ministers to be sacked.

Thousands of people also took part in demonstrations in various cities in Iraq's Shiite south on Friday.

The demands of the protesters were given a boost last week when Sistani called for Abadi to take "drastic measures" against corruption, saying the "minor steps" he had announced were not enough.

Abadi rolled out his reform programme two days later.

Various parties and politicians have sought to align themselves with the protesters in order to benefit from the movement and mitigate the risk to themselves.

But even with popular support for change, the entrenched nature of corruption and the fact that parties across the political spectrum benefit from it will make any efforts extremely difficult.

Abadi warned Wednesday that the reform process "will not be easy; it will be painful," and that corrupt individuals would seek to impede change.