Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s tough reaction to the Kurdish ballot received a boost from the country’s highest Shiite religious authority, the influential Ayatollah Ali Sistani. In a sign of the growing anxiety in Iraq’s power centers over the vote, Sistani’s representative used his weekly Friday sermon to criticize the referendum as destabilizing to both Arabs and Kurds, arguing that it invites international meddling in Iraq’s affairs.
“I call on the government to consider the Kurds’ constitutional rights in their measures,” Sistani’s representative said, sounding a conciliatory tone. At the same time, Sistani rejected any challenge to Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Sistani has not appeared in public in several years, but he wields considerable influence in Iraq’s politics. An edict he issued in 2014 urging Shiites to take up arms in defense of Baghdad and southern Iraq during an Islamic State onslaught is largely credited with mustering a force strong enough to stem the extremist group’s blitz in the country.As far as I can tell, Ayatollah Sistani's political instincts are close to infallible. If he says no to Kurdish independence, chances are an independent Iraqi Kurdistan is not going to happen.