Sistani Frowns on Maliki
Sistani's representatives have, without explicitly naming Maliki, made their discontent with him and his performance apparent, especially on issues of national unity and security (including his handling of Sunni protests and poor management of security challenges, let alone corruption). These criticisms are effectively delivered through Friday prayer, in a soft manner and in compliance with Sistani's approach.
Iran played a decisive role in helping Maliki cinch a second term in 2010 when he needed Sadrists’ votes. Shortly thereafter, the leader of the Sadrists, Muqtada al-Sadr, declared that Iran forced him to vote for Maliki. Observers believe that the second term of Maliki has revived sectarianism, weakened national unity, and barred independent institutions from power. In this context, the only internal Iraqi actor capable of resisting Iranian hegemony is the Iraqi Shia religious establishment, namely the hawza (seminary) of Najaf, and its supreme marja Ayatollah Sistani. Furthermore, this institution can cast doubts on Tehran’s religious legitimacy in the eyes of Iraq’s Shia. However, the Shia establishment’s quietism stands in the way of allowing it to counter Iranian influence, and therefore Sistani’s role in balancing out Tehran’s influence in Iraq will remain marginal in the short run.