Iraq’s top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani has called on protesters and security forces to keep anti-government demonstrations peaceful, amid reports of numerous casualties in recent clashes between the two sides.
“Real reform and change in the country has to be through peaceful methods,” Ayatollah Sistani said in a message delivered by his representative during a sermon in the holy city of Karbala.
The top cleric, who rarely weighs in on politics except in times of crisis, said that security forces must not allow attacks on public and private property, must ensure the safety of the rallies, and stay away from violence.
He also urged the demonstrators to avoid vandalizing the public properties, describing any act of vandalism as “illegal and illegitimate.”
The representative quoted the top cleric as saying that protesters should be aware of infiltration of suspicious elements, trying to exploit the rightful demands of protesters.
He also said that true reform is only possible through unity and cooperation.
Thousands of Iraqi protesters have massed near the high-security Green Zone in Baghdad in a resumption of anti-government demonstrations that left more than 150 people dead earlier this month.
The Friday rallies have also left one protester killed and 224 others wounded, according to Al-Sumaria News, citing the High Commission for Human Rights of Iraq.
The fresh demonstrations come after Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi pledged more reforms aimed at improving economy. The premier said people are free to exercise their right to demonstrate, but violence would not be tolerated.
Addressing the nation on Thursday night, Abdul-Mahdi said people had the right to call for the government to resign.
However, a collapse of the government, as some protesters have suggested, won’t help improve the situation in the Arab country, he said.
“The resignation of the government today without a constitutional alternative will lead the country into chaos,” he said.
A government committee established by Abdul-Mahdi reported on Monday that 149 civilians were killed in the first round of the protests due to the use of excessive force and live bullets by security officers.