On Friday, Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani condemned recent killings of anti-government protesters and urged full state control over the use of weapons in the country following one particular deadly attack by masked gunmen in Baghdad. In effect, Iraqi cleric Sistani wants Iranian wings clipped, and its influence in Iraq diminished.
Sistani rarely weighs in on politics except in times of crisis. He holds massive influence over public opinion in Shi’ite majority Iraq. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi pledged to quit last month hours after Sistani withdrew his support for the government.
Iraqi security forces, loyal to Iran, have shot dead scores of demonstrators protesting against the government’s failure to satisfy their demands for an overhaul of the country’s political system, halting corruption and an end of deep-rooted Iranian influence over state institutions.
Sistani has addressed the unrest in every Friday sermon since the protests began on Oct. 1. He called on security forces to deal peacefully with demonstrators and also urging protesters to shun violence.
This week’s comments followed an attack by heavily armed, masked gunmen who killed more than 20 people at Baghdad’s main protest site. They roamed the streets for hours afterwards, threatening further violence.
IRAQI CLERIC SISTANI WANTS TO CLIP IRANIAN WINGS
Sistani representative, in a Friday sermon in the holy city of Kerbala, read a statement:
We strongly condemn the killings, kidnappings and assaults that took place in all forms. We call on all concerned parties to take responsibility.
Sistani called for an urgent investigation into the “horrific crimes”. He added that all weapons should be brought “under the control of the state”.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah, another Iranian proxy, refuses to relinquish its weapons. In the past, it has used them to threaten Lebanese institutions and sovereignty. Sistani’s statement aims at removing the Iranian threat from his own country.
Paramilitary groups, including many Iran backs, make up a formal branch of Iraq’s security forces; however, some operate semi-independently. Many Iran-backed Iraqi militias have ties to powerful figures in Iraq’s parliament and government, which is a clear sign Iranian tentacles control Iraq.
NO IRANIAN MODEL IN IRAQ
Sistani on Friday warned against outside interference in Iraq. He urged state security forces to be loyal to the nation.
We must reiterate the necessity to build the army, and Iraq’s other armed forces, on solid professional foundations, so that they are loyal to the homeland and can defend against external aggression.
Sistani has long opposed foreign interference; as well as the Iranian model of senior clergy running state institutions.
Tens of thousands of protesters have been demanding an end to Iraq’s post-2003 political system; one that is underpinned by endemic political corruption. More than 440 people, mostly unarmed protesters, have been killed since Oct. 1, according to a Reuters tally.
Protesters blame Iran-backed militia groups for a spate of other killings including assassinations. Iran has arrested or assassinated many activists, local rights groups say.
Paramilitary groups have denied any role in attacking protests. Government security forces also deny using live ammunition against peaceful protesters. The denials point the fingers at Iran for the violence against peaceful demonstrators.
As demonstrations enter their third month, violence is spiraling with an increase in threats, kidnappings and killings of activists and protesters, according to activists and security sources.