Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whose portrait is being held aloft by his Shiite supporters, has called on the Kurdistan Region to go back to the "constitutional" path. File photo: AFP/Khalid Mohammed
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraq’s top Shiite cleric has rejected the outcome of Kurdistan’s independence vote despite an overwhelming over 92 percent voting to leave Iraq, including Shiite Kurds in disputed areas such as Khanaqin.
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, best known for his call for Iraqis to take up arms against ISIS in 2014, said Kurds must return to the “constitutional” path, arguing that is in the best interest of all Iraqi people, including the Kurds.
"We are calling on the officials in the Region to go back to the constitutional path to solve the issues between the central government and Region's government,” read a statement from the cleric’s representative in the holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad.
The office of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi subsequently released a statement expressing his appreciation for Sistani’s stance.
The Kurdistan government has said they were pushed to stage the independence referendum after the central government violated at least one third of the Iraqi constitution, including Article 140 that concerns the fate of the disputed or Kurdistani areas such as the oil-rich and multi-ethnic Kirkuk province.
According to the Iraqi constitution, Article 140 should have been implemented by 2007.
Sistani called on Iraqi authorities to respect Kurdistan’s rights, per the constitution.
“We also call on the Iraqi government and the political powers represented in parliament in all their decisions and steps to take into consideration the preservation of the constitutional rights of our Kurdish brothers,” read the statement from Sistani’s office.
Kurdish officials, including President Masoud Barzani, have on occasion complained that regional and international powers and religious leaders have failed to condemn violations of the Iraqi constitution.
Iraq considers Kurdistan’s referendum “unconstitutional” and has called on the Kurdish government to cancel its outcome, therefore setting a precondition for talks on outstanding issues between the two governments.
Barzani said on Tuesday that they are ready to have “serious dialogue” with Baghdad on the outcome of the yes-vote with the objective of living together as “two good neighbours.”
Sistani said that the recent development should not negatively affect the “solid relationship” between the Iraqi people, including Arabs and Kurds.
The statement said the people of Iraq should avoid “anything that might harm the national unity of Iraq's communities."