September 25, 2015 / 12:21 PM / 2 years ago

Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric says snubbing reforms will revive protests

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s most influential Shi‘ite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, reaffirmed on Friday the need for economic and administrative reforms and warned delays would spark a stronger reaction from the streets.

Following large demonstrations and previous calls from Sistani for bold action, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced measures last month aimed at combating the graft and mismanagement that have denied Iraqis basic services and undermined government forces battling Islamic State militants.

Critics complain the changes have not yet improved ordinary people’s lives and warn some of the steps are unconstitutional.

Protests in Baghdad and southern cities have shrunk in recent weeks from the many thousands of participants in late August. A demonstration planned for Friday was canceled due to the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha.

“Let those who stand in the way of reform and wager that demands for reform will dwindle know that reform is an absolute necessity,” said Sistani through his aide Sheikh Abdulmehdi al-Karbalai.

“If it seems that calls for reform are fading these days, they will return even stronger than before and then there will be no time for regrets.”

Since last month, Abadi has eliminated Iraq’s three vice presidents, three deputy prime minister positions, sacked a third of his cabinet and cut politicians’ security details and perks.

The reforms, aimed at eliminating sectarian and ethnic quotas for state positions, constitute the largest shake-up of Iraq’s governing system since the U.S. occupation.

They include the elimination of a layer of senior government posts, the scrapping of sectarian and party quotas for state positions and the reopening of corruption investigations. They also gave Abadi power to fire regional and provincial bosses.

Reporting By Stephen Kalin; Editing by Michael Georgy and Tom Heneghan

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