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Sistani Denies He Agreed With Iran's Soleimani To Back Iraqi PM

Demonstrators clash with riot police during the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, November 7, 2019

The office of Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani has denied an AFP report that he has agreed with the chief commander of Iran's Qods Force Qassem Soleimani, and influential Iraqi Shi'a politician Moqtada Sadr to support the embattled Iraqi prime minister.

Adil Abdul Mahdi, 77, came to power last year through a shaky alliance between populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Hadi al-Ameri, a leader of the Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary network.

However, Abdul-Mahdi's government has been threatened in recent weeks by the strongest grassroots protests in Iraq in decades. Thousands of young protesters demand better governance and an end to corruption. They also demand an end to Iran's meddling in Iraq.

Ayatollah Sistani has backed the protests, that have engulfed Baghdad and mostly Shiite cities in the south.

When the protests first erupted in October, Sadr also threw his weight behind the protesters while Iran-supported Ḥashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces), backed the government.

Citing an unnamed source, AFP reported, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, Sadr, and al- Hashd al-Shaabi closed ranks behind the premier this week after a series of meetings led by Qasem Soleimani.

Soleimani, who often plays a mediating role during times of crisis in Iraq, met Sadr and persuaded him to return to the fold, said a source present at the meetings.

"Those meetings resulted in an agreement that Abdel Mahdi would remain in office," AFP quoted the unnamed source as saying.

The source also told AFP Soleimani met Mohammed Ridha Sistani, the son of Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, undated
Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, undated

Earlier, several Iraqi news outlets had claimed that Ridha Sistani's position on recent developments in Iraq is close to the position of the Islamic Republic.

Nonetheless, hours later, the office of Sistani issued a statement denying any agreement on keeping Abdul-Mahdi in power.

In the statement read in the city of Karbala, Sistani insisted that since the country was in danger, wasting time was not permissible anymore.

A week earlier, in another statement also read in Karbala and Baghdad, Sistani without naming any particular person or country asserted, "No person or group, no side with a particular view, no regional or international actor may seize the will of the Iraqi people and impose its will on them."

The statement was immediately interpreted by enraged protesters as a direct warning to the Islamic Republic Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to stop meddling in Iraq's internal affairs.