How 92-year-old Al-Sistani silently halted Iraq’s slide back into war

Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. (AFP)
Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. (AFP)
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Updated 03 September 2022

How 92-year-old Al-Sistani silently halted Iraq’s slide back into war

Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. (AFP)
  • Officials and insiders say it was only grand ayatollah’s stance behind the scenes that halted a meltdown

BAGHDAD: When a pronouncement by a religious scholar in Iran drove Iraq to the brink of civil war last week, there was only one man who could stop it: A 92-year-old Iraqi Shiite cleric who proved once again he is the most powerful man in his country.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani said nothing in public about the unrest that erupted on Iraq’s streets. But government officials and Shiite insiders say it was only Al-Sistani’s stance behind the scenes that halted a meltdown.
The story of Iraq’s bloodiest week in nearly three years shows the limits of traditional politics in a country where the power to start and stop wars rests with clerics — many with ambiguous ties to Iran, the Shiite theocracy next door.
The Iraqis who took to the streets blamed Tehran for whipping up the violence, which began after a cleric based in Iran denounced Iraq’s most popular politician, Moqtada Al-Sadr, and instructed his own followers — including Al-Sadr himself — to seek guidance from Iran’s Supreme Leader.

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Ali Al-Sistani has never held formal political office in Iraq but presides as the most influential scholar in its Shiite religious center, Najaf.

Al-Sadr’s followers tried to storm government buildings. By nightfall they were driving through Baghdad in pickup trucks brandishing machine guns and bazookas.
Armed men believed to be members of pro-Iranian militia opened fire on Sadrist demonstrators who threw stones. At least 30 people were killed.
And then, within 24 hours, it was over as suddenly as it started. Al-Sadr returned to the airwaves and called for calm. His armed supporters and unarmed followers began leaving the streets, the army lifted an overnight curfew and a fragile calm descended upon the capital.
To understand both how the unrest broke out and how it was quelled, Reuters spoke with nearly 20 officials from the Iraqi government, Al-Sadr’s movement and rival Shiite factions seen as pro-Iranian. Most spoke on condition of anonymity.
Those interviews all pointed to a decisive intervention behind the scenes by Al-Sistani, who has never held formal political office in Iraq but presides as the most influential scholar in its Shiite religious center, Najaf.
Officials said Al-Sistani’s office ensured Al-Sadr understood that unless Al-Sadr called off the violence by his followers, Al-Sistani would denounce the unrest.
“Al-Sistani sent a message to Al-Sadr, that if he did not stop the violence then Al-Sistani would be forced to release a statement calling for a stopping of fighting — this would have made Al-Sadr look weak, and as if he’d caused bloodshed in Iraq,” said an Iraqi government official.
Three Shiite figures based in Najaf and close to Al-Sistani would not confirm that Al-Sistani’s office sent an explicit message to Al-Sadr. But they said it would have been clear to Al-Sadr that Al-Sistani would soon speak out unless Al-Sadr called off the unrest.
An Iran-aligned official in the region said that if it were not for Al-Sistani’s office, “Moqtada Al-Sadr would not have held his press conference” that halted the fighting.
Al-Sistani’s intervention may have averted wider bloodshed for now. But it does not solve the problem of maintaining calm in a country where so much power resides outside the political system in the Shiite clergy, including among clerics with intimate ties to Iran.
Al-Sistani, who has intervened decisively at crucial moments in Iraq’s history since the US invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, has no obvious successor. Despite his age, little is known publicly about the state of his health.
Meanwhile, many of the most influential Shiite figures — including Al-Sadr himself at various points in his career — have studied, lived and worked in Iran, a theocracy which makes no attempt to separate clerical influence from state power.
Last week’s violence began after Ayatollah Kadhim Al-Haeri, a top ranking Iraqi-born Shiite cleric who has lived in Iran for decades, announced he was retiring from public life and shutting down his office due to advanced age. Such a move is practically unknown in the 1,300-year history of Shiite Islam, where top clerics are typically revered until death.
Al-Haeri had been anointed as Al-Sadr’s movement’s spiritual adviser by Al-Sadr’s father, himself a revered cleric who was assassinated by Saddam’s regime in 1999.
In announcing his own resignation, Haeri denounced Al-Sadr for causing rifts among Shiites, and called on his own followers to seek future guidance on religious matters from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — the cleric who also happens to rule the Iranian state.

 


Iranian ex-president lauds anti-regime protests

Iranian ex-president lauds anti-regime protests
Updated 07 December 2022

Iranian ex-president lauds anti-regime protests

Iranian ex-president lauds anti-regime protests
  • ‘Freedom trampled under pretext of protecting security,’ says Mohammad Khatami
  • Former leader calls on regime to meet protesters’ demands ‘before it is too late’

LONDON: Iran’s former President Mohammad Khatami has praised anti-regime protests and urged authorities to meet protesters’ demands “before it is too late,” the BBC reported.

The two-term reformist president, who served between 1997 and 2005, described “woman, life, freedom” as a “beautiful slogan,” and said that it showed Iranian society was moving toward a better future.

Khatami also criticized the security forces’ crackdown and arrest of students.

“It should not be allowed that freedom and security are placed in opposition to one another, and that as a result freedom is trampled under the pretext of maintaining security, or that security is ignored in the name of freedom,” he said.

“I advise officials to appreciate this presence and instead of dealing with it unjustly, extend a helping hand to them and, with their help, recognize the wrong aspects of governance and move toward good governance before it is too late.”

Khatami’s comments came in a statement to mark Student Day on Wednesday, with students having been at the forefront of the wave of protests that are now into their fourth month.

Protests were sparked by the September murder of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police.

Her death ignited pent-up frustrations over falling living standards, and discrimination against women and minorities.

Protests have spread to more than 150 cities and 140 universities in all 31 of Iran’s provinces, and are now considered the most serious challenge to the regime since it took power in the 1979 revolution.

Iran’s leadership has sought to portray the protests as “riots” instigated by “foreign enemies.”

Despite the brutal crackdown by security forces, which have led to the deaths of 473 protesters and the detention of more than 18,000 people, demonstrations show little sign of abating, with Khatami describing student involvement as “perhaps unprecedented.”

Iran’s judiciary also sentenced five protesters to death on charges of “corruption of the Earth” on Tuesday, with 11 others, including three children” handed long prison sentences.

Director of Iran Human Rights Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam told AFP News: “These people are sentenced after unfair processes and without due process. The aim is to spread fear and make people stop protesting.”

A total of 11 protesters have now been sentenced to death, with the country’s judiciary chief saying on Monday that executions will be carried out “soon.”


Iran executions up more than 50% this year

Iran executions up more than 50% this year
Updated 07 December 2022

Iran executions up more than 50% this year

Iran executions up more than 50% this year
  • Over 500 people killed, says rights body
  • ‘Crackdown led by President Ebrahim Raisa’

LONDON: Iranian authorities have executed more than 500 people this year, according to data released by Iran Human Rights.

Up more than 50 percent on 2021’s figure of 333, the spike in executions marks a dramatic shift following years of decline, with numbers only likely to climb amidst the government’s brutal response to protests in the wake of the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody.

Five further death sentences were handed out to protesters yesterday, for killing a member of the security forces, bringing to 11 the total number arising from the protests.

Meanwhile nine people have been charged over the killing of Iran’s nuclear weapons chief, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in November 2020. Israel’s security agency, Mossad, has been blamed for Fakhrizadeh’s death.

Newly elected president and former prosecutor, Ebrahim Raisi, played a central role in the 1980s killing spree that resulted in the execution of thousands of opposition supporters.

His election last year, combined with the surging number of death sentences, are considered reflective of the increasing dominance of hardliners over Iranian politics.


New launch date floated for UAE’s moon mission

New launch date floated for UAE’s moon mission
Updated 07 December 2022

New launch date floated for UAE’s moon mission

New launch date floated for UAE’s moon mission
  • Initial launch date was delayed several times to allow for additional pre-flight checks

DUBAI: The UAE’s moon rover is set to blast off “no earlier than Dec. 11” after a series of tests were conducted on the SpaceX rocket.

In a statement, ispace inc., the Japanese firm that built HAKUTO-R Mission 1 lander carrying the UAE’s Rashid rover, said the initial launch date was delayed several times to allow for additional pre-flight checks on the rocket.

The Emirati-made Rashid rover will launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, US, at 7:38 a.m. GMT on Dec. 11, embarking on a five-month journey to the moon in the Arab world’s first lunar mission.

 

 

“ispace’s Mission 1 lunar lander was integrated into the SpaceX Falcon 9 fairing and battery charging operations for the lander will continue,” said the firm.

“No issues with the lander itself have been identified. As of today, no major operational changes are planned, with lunar landing scheduled for the end of April 2023.”

If the rover lands successfully, the UAE will be the fourth country to reach the moon.


Somalia praises UAE for its relief efforts in the country

Somalia praises UAE for its relief efforts in the country
Updated 07 December 2022

Somalia praises UAE for its relief efforts in the country

Somalia praises UAE for its relief efforts in the country
  • Abdul Shakour’s comments were made on the sidelines of a conference held on Wednesday at the Arab League headquarters

DUBAI: Abdul Rahman Abdul Shakour, Somalia’s special envoy for the President for Humanitarian Affairs and Drought, praised the UAE on Wednesday for its relief efforts in the drought-stricken country. 
“The UAE is a pioneer in providing the necessary support to Somalia in this crisis, as it was the first country to respond to the appeal launched by the Somali government to provide urgent relief to those affected by drought,” said Abdul Shakour.
He noted that the UAE fulfilled the needs of approximately 2.5 million people after it airlifted supplies and sent a ship carrying more than 1,000 tons of food and relief items to Somalia. 
Abdul Shakour’s comments were made on the sidelines of a conference held on Wednesday at the Arab League headquarters, which was jointly sponsored by the Arab League and United Nations.
The conference included several of senior officials from Arab philanthropic organizations and UN humanitarian bodies that aim to coordinate actions plans that will help address the worsening food situation in the African nation.


UAE leaders meet Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense

UAE leaders meet Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense
Updated 07 December 2022

UAE leaders meet Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense

UAE leaders meet Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense

DUBAI: UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum met with Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense during his official visit to the country.

The leaders discussed bilateral ties and areas of potential cooperation with Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob in two separate meetings in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, reported state news agency (WAM).

They also reviewed issues of mutual interest.