Iraq's top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani says security forces must keep peace
Iraq’s top Shia Muslim cleric on Friday urged security forces to avoid using excessive force to quell weeks of anti-government unrest as authorities grapple with the country's biggest crisis in years.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who only speaks on politics in times of crisis and wields enormous influence over public opinion in Shia-majority Iraq, urged the government to respond as quickly as possible to demonstrators' demands.
"The biggest responsibility is on the security forces," a representative of Sistani said in a sermon after Friday prayers in the holy city of Karbala.
Violence erupts during protests in Iraq
Iraqis ushered in October with anti-government protests in Baghdad. These quickly deteriorated into violent confrontations resulting in hundreds of injuries and dozens of deaths. Unease remains in several cities. By Cristina Burack
Days of violence: despite promises of reform by the government, protests against corruption and mismanagement in Iraq continue. Once again on Friday people gathered in central locations in the capital Baghdad, as well as in the south of the country
Protests without end: following days of violent protests, a curfew was supposed to provide peace and quiet - after all, at least 100 people have died and some 1,600 have been injured. However, many demonstrators ignored the curfew and spent the night outside to protest further
Protests without a party: these are by no means the first protests against the difficult living conditions in Iraq. In some places, there are only four hours of electricity a day, and according to the World Bank, youth unemployment stands at 25 percent. Iraq's most senior Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani called for "serious reforms" before it was too late
Lockdown: there is already talk of the first protests "without flag, without posters and without party slogan". They were, however, obviously fanned by the dismissal of a popular general, Abdel-Wahab al-Saadi. In Baghdad, the demonstrators tried to enter the so-called Green Zone. Numerous government buildings and embassies are located in the high-security district
Allegations of police violence: security forces have been using tear gas against demonstrators since the beginning of the protests. The UN Human Rights Office in Geneva also fears that police officers have been using live ammunition and rubber bullets. Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi came under fire when he praised the security forces and blamed the unspecified "attackers" for the violence
The country's president, Barham Saleh (photo, March 2019), reiterated his condemnation of the violence and called for "restraint and respect for the law". "Peaceful protest is a constitutional right granted to citizens," Saleh stressed. The Human Rights Committee of the Iraqi Parliament criticised the "repression" of the protests
"They must avoid using excessive force with peaceful protesters."
Protests over lack of jobs and services broke out in Baghdad on 1 October and quickly spread to southern provinces. Security forces began using live gunfire to disperse demonstrations almost immediately and have killed more than 260 people, according to police and medics.
The protesters, mostly unemployed youths, now demand an overhaul of the political system and ruling class which has dominated state institutions since the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Sistani also warned against the exploitation of the unrest by "internal and external" forces which he said sought to destabilise Iraq for their own goals. He did not elaborate. (Reuters)