Tehran fury as Iraq’s Shiite leadership rejects Iranian ‘interference’

Iraqi demonstrators carry flags and an image of Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Husaini Al-Sistani, during ongoing anti-government protests in the southern city of Basra on November 1, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 03 November 2019

Tehran fury as Iraq’s Shiite leadership rejects Iranian ‘interference’

  • Sistani is the leader of the world’s Shiite community and is the most influential man in Iraq, considered the godfather of the political process since 2003
  • Sistani’s message “irritated Khamenei and worried his allies in Iraq,” Iraqi politicians and sources close to Sistani told Arab News

BAGHDAD: The mass demonstrations in Iraq have heightened tensions between Najaf’s supreme religious authority, led by Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Al-Sistani, and Iran’s supreme religious leader Ali Khamenei, sources close to Sistani told Arab News on Saturday.
Baghdad and nine southern Shiite-dominated provinces have been witnessing mass demonstrations since Oct. 1 as people protest over corruption, unemployment and lack of daily basic life services.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and his Iranian-backed allies led a brutal crackdown on demonstrations in its first week, killing around 150 protesters and wounding 7,000 others.
The demonstrations stopped for two weeks but returned last Friday after Abdul Mahdi vowed under local and international pressure not to use live ammunition. Despite this commitment, more than 250 demonstrators were killed and more than 6,000 wounded, mostly in Baghdad and Basra.
Most demonstrators in Baghdad and Basra were killed by tear gas canisters, while in the other provinces by gunfire of guards of political parties and armed factions, whose headquarters had come under attack from protesters.

BACKGROUND

Although there are many religious and sectarian points that Sistani and Khamenei share, Sistani does not recognize absolute right of the clergy to control the state.

Demonstrators’ demands increased to include the overthrow of the government and early national parliamentary elections preceded by a change in the election law and the appointment of a new election commission.
Iraqi political forces and armed factions backed by Iran would be the biggest losers if the demands of the demonstrators are met, top senior officials and politicians said.
Sistani is the leader of the world’s Shiite community and is the most influential man in Iraq, considered the godfather of the political process since 2003. Although there are many religious and sectarian points that he and Khamenei share, Sistani does not adopt the theory of velayat-e faqih and does not recognize absolute right of the clergy to control the state.
The two men have been at odds over managing the situation in Iraq for years, but it turned into a rupture a year and a half ago, according to Sistani’s associates.




A protester dressed as Iron Man walks on Saturday during ongoing anti-government demonstrations in Baghdad. (AFP)

The dispute resurfaced last Wednesday, when Khamenei demanded in a public statement that the demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon end. Many Iranian clerics have accused Iraqi demonstrators of being in the pay of Israel, America and Britain during their sermons at Friday prayers in the past few weeks.
Sistani, in an open letter read by his representative, Sayyed Ahmed Al-Safi, in Friday prayers said that no one is a guardian of the Iraqis and that no person or group or regional or international party has the right to impose their will on them or determine their choices regarding the management of their country or the reforms that they want.
Sistani’s message “irritated Khamenei and worried his allies in Iraq,” Iraqi politicians and sources close to Sistani told Arab News.
“The message was earth-shattering,” a top senior Iraqi official said. “No one, especially Khamenei, expected that Sistani would announce his rejection of their intervention in this way.
“Iran threw all its weight behind Abdul Mahdi. They believe that this government is their government and they cannot allow it to fall.
“Any early election or amendment to the election law would mean losing the control of their local allies over the country, which they would not allow.
“They (the Iraqi forces backed by Iran) are currently rejecting any solutions to get out of the crisis and any activation of the constitutional procedures that can dismantle the crisis, means launching an endless cycle of violence because they they have weapons and power.”
Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who runs Iran’s operations in Iraq, arrived in Baghdad on Thursday and asked to meet Sistani on Saturday to discuss the latest developments and try to calm the situation between Najaf and Tehran, sources close to Sistani said.
“Sayyed Sistani’s office agreed to his request to meet,” the sources said.
“Sistani now has an interest in meeting him to tell him directly about their displeasure with Iranian positions.
“Although Sistani stopped meeting with any of Sayyed Khamenei’s envoys more than a year and a half ago, now the country’s interest requires his meeting Soleimani.
“Their groups (Iranian-backed forces) are ready to burn the country and the message must reach them clearly.
“The Iranians must take their hands off the demonstrators and curb their groups.”


Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

Updated 06 June 2020

Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

  • Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon
  • The UN food agency said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items

BEIRUT: Syria’s pound hit record lows on the black market Saturday trading at over 2,300 to the dollar, less than a third of its official value, traders said, ahead of new US sanctions.
Three traders in Damascus told AFP by phone that the dollar bought more than 2,300 Syrian pounds for the first time, though the official exchange rate remained fixed at around 700 pounds to the greenback.
After nine years of war, Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon.
Last month, the central bank warned it would clamp down on currency “manipulators.”
Analysts said concerns over the June 17 implementation of the US Caesar Act, which aims to sanction foreign persons who assist the Syrian government or help in post-war reconstruction, also contributed to the de fact devaluation.
Zaki Mehchy, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, said foreign companies — including from regime ally Russia — were already opting not to take any risks.
With money transactions requiring two to three weeks to implement, “today’s transactions will be paid after June 17,” he said.
Heiko Wimmen, Syria project director at the conflict tracker Crisis Group, said that with the act coming into force, “doing business with Syria will become even more difficult and risky.”
Both analysts said the fall from grace of top business tycoon Rami Makhlouf despite being a cousin of the president was also affecting confidence.
“The Makhlouf saga is spooking the rich,” Wimmen said.
After the Damascus government froze assets of the head of the country’s largest mobile phone operator and slapped a travel ban on him, the wealthy feel “nobody is safe,” he said.
They are thinking “you better get your assets and perhaps yourself out preparing for further shakedowns,” he said.
Mehchy said the impact of the pound’s decline and ensuing price hikes on Syrians would be “catastrophic.”
Most of Syria’s population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, and food prices have doubled over the past year.
The UN food agency’s Jessica Lawson said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items such as rice, pasta and lentils.
“These price increases risk pushing even more people into hunger, poverty and food insecurity as Syrians’ purchasing power continues to erode,” the World Food Programme spokeswoman said.
“Families may be forced to cut the quality and quantity of food they buy.”