TEHRAN - Two top Iranian conservative clerics lined up Friday to blast the US presence in Iraq, asserting the Iraqi peoples' right to Islamic government and accusing Washington of only seeking oil and the protection of Israel.
"The Americans are mistaken in staying there and trying to govern Iraq," Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, Tehran's Friday prayer leader, said in his sermon. "We know that the Americans are looking for oil and Israel's interests."
The hardline former judiciary chief, who also sits on Iran's two top political decision-making bodies, also asserted that "every Iraqi has the right to determine what government they want."
"The Iraqis have said categorically, they want no America and no Saddam," he said, calling on the United Nations and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) "to supervise elections so that every Iraqi can cast his or her vote."
In the preceding sermon, fellow conservative cleric Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi said Iraqis had sent a clear signal that they wanted an Islamic government, and not Washington's brand of "liberal democracy."
"We have seen seven million people gathered at Karbala. This was a form of practical referendum, saying that they want an Islamic government and are against the foreign presence in their country," said the cleric, an influential conservative ideologue.
Earlier this week, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shiite Muslims flocked to Iraq's holiest city of Karbala in a pilgrimage banned under Saddam Hussein. The ceremony failed to ignite large anti-US demonstrations despite appeals by clerics for mass shows of anti-Americanism.
The US has accused Iran of seeking to use Iraq's Shiite majority to push for an Islamic government and undermine Washington's plans to instill its brand of democracy.
"The United States considers the model of liberal democracy as the most superior form of government. But we have witnessed in the past few days what kind of atrocities this form of government ... has inflicted on the Iraqi people," Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi said in his sermon.
The cleric alleged that the conduct of US forces in neighbouring Iraq was of a ruthlessness "without comparison to any invading force in the course of history," and accused the invading forces of deliberately cutting off water and electricity supplies.
Friday prayers were also marked with the usual chants of "Death to America," especially given that it was also the anniversary of the catastrophic US attempt in 1980 to rescue a group of diplomats held hostage at the seized US embassy in Tehran.
In Tabas, a remote desert oasis city in Iran's central province of Yazd from where US forces had tried to stage an airlift of the hostages, officials were marking the anniversary with a one-day "Down with the USA" festival.
The hostage drama caused Washington and Tehran to break off diplomatic ties.