Iraq’s Top Shi’ite Cleric Slams Govt Over Protester Deaths

Gives Baghdad two weeks to find 'undisciplined elements'

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is the most powerful, most influential Shi’ite cleric in Iraq, and while he rarely chimes in on political matters, those rare times he does are hugely significant, and officials take what he says very seriously.

On Friday, Sistani issued a statement weighing in on the civilian deaths in the protests, blaming the government for killing them, and giving the government a two week deadline to identify those “undisciplined elements” responsible.

Sistani was particularly critical of the use of snipers against the protesters, and of violence against journalists. The statement puts substantial additional pressure on Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi.

Iraqi officials had already indicated that they were intending to investigate the violence against protesters and hold personnel involved responsible. Sistani’s addition of a two week deadline greatly increases the need to wrap this up quickly, and to do it in a public way. Though Sistani did not state any consequence for failing, his influence over the country’s Shi’ite majority means he could do practically anything, including forcing the government to resign.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of Antiwar.com.