UN: Top Iraqi Shiite cleric backs reforms to resolve unrest

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the UN's special representative to Iraq, in a meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in Najaf to discuss the series of reforms put forward by the UN a day earlier. (Supplied)
Updated 12 November 2019

UN: Top Iraqi Shiite cleric backs reforms to resolve unrest

  • “Al-Sistani wants young people to continue their demonstrations and sit-ins until all the required reforms are implemented.”
  • Sistani has said security forces had a responsibility to show restraint with peaceful protesters

BAGHDAD: The top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Al-Sistani welcomed the UN initiative to dismantle the current crisis and meet the demands of the demonstrators and called on the Iraqi government to stop the arrests and kidnappings of demonstrators.

Baghdad and nine southern Shiite-dominated provinces have been witnessing anti-government mass demonstrations since Oct. 1. More than 300 demonstrators were killed and a further 15,000 injured, mostly in

Baghdad, due to live bullets and tear gas canisters used by Iraqi forces to suppress the demonstrations, medics and officials said.

Demonstrators are demanding the dismissal of the government and early national parliamentary elections, preceded by a change in the election law and the electoral commission and the amendment of the constitution.

However, the political forces have refused to discuss the dismissal or resignation of the government and discuss early elections.

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Al-Sistani, the leader of the Shiite community and the

most influential man in Iraq who is seen as the godfather of the political process since 2003, received Jeaine Hennis-Plasschaert, the UN secretary-general’s representative in Iraq on Monday to discuss the latest developments in the country and was handed a copy of the proposals of the UN mission to resolve the crisis.

A copy of the proposals obtained by Arab News included “immediate” measures to be implemented within less than a week, including the release of peaceful demonstrators from Oct. 1 to today, non-prosecution of peaceful demonstrators, the initiation of a full investigation into the cases of kidnapping, identification and disclosure of the kidnappers, punishing officials for the excessive use of force against demonstrators and all regional and international parties not to interfere in Iraqi affairs.

The indirect measures, which are supposed to be implemented in a few weeks, include reforms to electoral law, prohibiting armed factions and preventing the existence of any weapons outside the control of the state and fighting corruption.

The medium-term proposed measures, which are supposed to be implemented within one to three months, including constitutional amendments.

Al-Sistani welcomed the UN proposals — presented by Plasschaert — but expressed concern about the lack of seriousness of the political forces to undertake any of the proposed reforms “if the three executive, legislative and judicial authorities are not able to make the necessary reforms or did not want, then (we) must think to find another way,” the statement read.

“The situation cannot continue as it is before the recent protests.”

Al-Sistani is seeking gradual changes with regard to the required reforms and does not prefer armed solutions for fear of involvement of factions linked to Iran in the suppression of demonstrations to protect the interests of their local and regional allies, sources close to Al-Sistani told Arab News.

“Al-Sistani wants young people to continue their demonstrations and sit-ins until all the required reforms are implemented. He is pushing in that direction,” a prominent Shiite leader close to Al-Sistani told Arab News.

“But (Al-Sistani) wants a peaceful handover of power to avoid bloodshed. This takes time and the demonstrators must understand this. Pushing for the immediate handover of power (toppling the government) or stripping the current political forces of all they currently possess, is a dangerous option and cannot be taken. They (the political forces) are murderers and they will not surrender easily and any uncalculated escalation means that blood will flow in the streets,” he said.


Omani Foreign Minister begins Tehran visit

Updated 21 January 2020

Omani Foreign Minister begins Tehran visit

  • The visit comes amid escalated tensions in the region

DUBAI: Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi began his Tehran visit on Tuesday, Al-Arabiya television news channel reported.

The visit comes amid escalated tensions and economic uncertainties in the region that began at the start of 2020.

On Jan. 3 the United States killed Iran’s military commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an air strike attack in Iraq.

Following Soleimani’s death, US President Donald Trump promised to target 52 Iranian sites if Iran retaliated.

In response, Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles in the early hours of Jan. 8.

Oman maintains friendly ties with both the United States and Iran and has previously been a go-between for the two countries, which severed diplomatic relations after the 1979 Iranian revolution.