Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 February 2020

Iraq protests: Ali Al Sistani warns against foreign meddling

Top Shiite cleric says no one should impose their will on protesters

Anti-government protesters gather nea barriers set by Iraqi security forces to close the bridge leading to the Green Zone in Baghdad on November 1, 2019. AP Photo
Anti-government protesters gather nea barriers set by Iraqi security forces to close the bridge leading to the Green Zone in Baghdad on November 1, 2019. AP Photo

Iraq's top Shiite cleric on Friday warned foreign actors against interfering in anti-government protests that erupted early last month and urged political factions to avoid "infighting".

"No person or group, no side with a particular view, no regional or international actor may seize the will of the Iraqi people and impose its will on them," Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani said in his weekly sermon read by a representative in the Shiite holy city of Karbala.

Mr Al Sistani's follow reports that the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's overseas operations, Qassem Suleimani, visited Baghdad on Wednesday for a secret meeting with the leaders of Iran-backed militias.

Mr Suleimani reportedly discouraged Haider Al Amiri, head of an alliance of militias that forms the second-largest bloc in parliament, from supporting the removal of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Also on Wednesday, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged protesters in both Iraq and Lebanon to pursue their demands through "legal frameworks".

As in Iraq, people in Lebanon have been protesting against corruption and the government's failure to deliver basic service and provide employment. Lebanon's politics are dominated by the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.

Iraq has close but complicated ties with neighbouring Iran but also with Tehran's sworn foe Washington.

Since the protests in Iraq began on October 1, demonstrators and their detractors have accused each other of being backed by outside actors.

More than 250 people have been killed and 10,000 wounded in the past month as the protests intensified into calls for the "downfall of the regime".

Mr Al Sistani on Friday condemned the violence and said Iraq must not be dragged into the "abyss of infighting".

"I urge the the relevant parties not to push armed forces in how they deal with the strikes and peaceful protests," he said.

Paramilitary factions have widespread influence in Iraq but their clout has been opposed by protesters over the past month.

Rival groups have taken to the streets in recent days to flex their muscles.

Updated: November 1, 2019 03:25 PM

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