Iraq’s top Shia cleric, Ali Al-Sistani, called on Friday for the formation of a new government away from external intervention.
“We hope that the selection of the new prime minister and the members of the government come within the constitutional period and according to the citizens’ aspirations, away from any external interference,” announced Al-Karbalai, noting that religious reference is not a part of any discussion on this and has no role in any way.
Al-Sistani seems to be referring to Iran in particular, as local Iraqi media have been circulating information about the presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps leader, Qasem Soleimani, in Iraq to discuss the formation of the new government with Tehran’s allies.
On Sunday the Iraqi parliament accepted the resignation of Adil Abdul Mahdi’s government, against the backdrop of Al-Sistani’s call for the parliament to reconsider its support, and the pressure of popular protests and occurring acts of violence, since the beginning of October.
The president of the republic has to appoint a candidate to form the new government within 15 days after the resignation of the government, and the prime minister in charge has to present his government to the parliament within 30 days.
“If the popular movement expands, it will be an effective tool to put pressure on those in power, but the prerequisite for this is not to be dragged into acts of violence, chaos and sabotage,” asserted Al-Sistani’s representative.
He added that keeping the protests peaceful is the responsibility of both the security forces and protesters.
He urged everyone to “support, respect, uplift the morale and encourage security forces officers to carry out their role in maintaining security and stability as required, in order to avoid chaos and public order instability.”
“As we condemn – once again – all what has happened in previous days, including the killing of innocent people and damaging of private properties and public institutions, we call on all those affected to take legal means to claim their rights,” continued Al-Karbalai in his reading of Al-Sistani’s statement.
He also called on the judicial bodies to “hold accountable and punish all those who commit a criminal act from any party, in accordance with the law.”
Al-Sistani warned of “those who are lurking in the country and seeking to exploit the protests demanding reform to achieve certain goals that undermine the higher interests of the Iraqi people and do not conform to its inherent values.”
Iraq has been witnessing protests against the government and political elite since October, including large-scale violence killing 460 people and injuring more than 17,000, according to figures by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
The vast majority of the victims were protesters who were killed in clashes with security forces and militants from pro-Iran Shia factions.
Despite the resignation of Adil Abdul Mahdi’s government, a key demand of the protesters is the departure of the political elite ruling the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, who are accused of corruption and wasting state funds.