First Published: 2004-01-23

 
Sistani calls halt to anti-coalition protests
 

Iraqi Shiite leader issues decree to give time to UN study on viability of free elections in war-torn Iraq.

 

Middle East Online

By Kamal Taha - KARBALA

A call for 'wait and see'

Iraq's leading Shiite cleric Friday called a halt to mass protests against US plans for handing over power, offering much-needed breathing room to the coalition as it counted the cost of a new wave of rebel attacks on Iraqi civilians.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued the decree to give time to a UN study on the viability of free elections, a week after threatening to launch a civil unrest campaign unless polls were held before the end of June - when the coalition wants to install a new government.

Tens of thousands of Shiites have taken to the streets over the past week to back Sistani's demands, which in turn prompted Washington to seek UN support for its plan which envisions elections only in late 2005.

Following a meeting Monday with US overseer in Iraq Paul Bremer and members of the Iraqi Governing Council, UN chief Kofi Annan said he would consider sending a mission to study whether elections could be held sooner than scheduled.

It is vital "to wait until the United States and the UN clarify their positions on the election procedure to choose the nature of the next Iraqi government," Sistani spokesman Sheikh Abdel Mahdi al-Karbalai said in a sermon at Karbala.

While the potential UN mission would meet one of Sistani's key demands, it stirred the wrath of firebrand radical Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr, who branded the world body "dishonest" and subservient to America.

"I refuse the participation of the United Nations in supervising elections, because it is not honest and it follows America," Sadr told worshippers at the Kufa pilgrimage shrine near the central holy city of Najaf.

Sadr, who appeals mainly to the young and disenfranchised, also mobilised thousands of supporters earlier this week, fuelling expectations that Shiites will grab the helm in Iraq, with or without elections, leaving the Kurdish and Sunni Muslim minorities marginalised.

Earlier Friday, 2,000 people marched in Sistani's name in the town of Ad Dugail, north of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the US-led coalition was facing an alarming shift in the nine-month insurgency that has blighted its presence in Iraq, with rebels now openly directing their fire at civilians and police.

Some 24 hours of guerrilla attacks ending Thursday left nine Iraqis dead.

Two US soldiers were also killed and another two injured.

Five Christian laundry women died after assailants raked their minibus with gunfire Wednesday as they were headed to work at a US base near Habbaniyah, west of Baghdad.

The fifth woman died Friday after succumbing to her injuries, said their employer, the German-based contractor, Ecolog, a subsidiary of US firm Kellog, Brown and Root.

Two Iraqi policemen killed Thursday in an ambush north of the powderkeg town of Fallujah, were buried Friday.

A civilian motorist caught in the attack was also killed and three policemen were wounded.

Another Iraqi man died and three others were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded 25 kilometres (16 miles) northwest of Iraq's oil capital of Kirkuk, police said Thursday.

US Brigadier General Mark Kimmit, the coalition's deputy operations director, Thursday reiterated warnings that civilian lives were being gambled in the high-stakes struggle to control Iraq.

The two latest US casualties occurred near Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, in a mortar attack on their base Wednesday night. A father and son were later arrested in connection to the shelling, a US military spokesman said Friday.

Two US soldiers were also confirmed injured in a bomb attack after a meeting of tribal leaders in Fallujah on Thursday.

US battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Brian Drinkwine based in Fallujah told Lebanese LBC television the blast was an attempt to assassinate him and his assistant.

 

Erdogan urges world to recognise Jerusalem as Palestinian capital

Saudi, UAE seeks to help West Africa fight terrorism

US skeptical about Putin's declaration of military victory in Syria

Saudi King says determined to confront corruption

Saudi Arabia lifts decades-long ban on cinemas

Israel intelligence minister invites Saudi prince to visit

Saudi-led strikes kill 30 in rebel-run Yemen prison

Saudi king says Palestinians have 'right' to Jerusalem

South Sudan needs $1.7 billion humanitarian aid in 2018

UAE oil giant floats 10 percent of retail arm to strong interest

Growing concern about rise of far-right in Austria

Israeli sentenced to four years for arson attack on church

Erdogan risks sabotaging fragile relations with Israel

6.2-magnitude earthquake strikes Iran

Two Gazans killed by Israeli ‘strike’, Israel denies claim

French FM accuses Iran of carving out ‘axis’ of influence

Somali journalist killed in front of children

Over 170 dead after South Sudan rival cattle herders clash

Russia begins partial withdrawal from Syria

Russia weary of returning IS jihadists before World Cup, election

EU accused of complicity in Libya migrant rights violations

Pentagon skeptical about Russia's Syria pullout claims

EU says Syria war ‘ongoing’ despite Russia pullout

Istanbul nightclub gunman refuses to testify

Integrating Syrians in Turkey carries implications

US opinion views Muslims and Arabs more favourably but political affiliation makes a difference

Iranian conservative protesters say Trump hastening end of Israel

Senior Saudi prince blasts Trump's "opportunistic" Jerusalem move

Kuwait ruler’s son named defence minister

Jordan referred to UN for failing to arrest Sudanese president

Turkey demands life for journalists in coup bid trial

Netanyahu expects EU to follow suit on Jerusalem

Putin orders withdrawal of ‘significant’ amount of troops from Syria

Putin to meet with Sisi in Cairo

GCC at a critical juncture

Houthi rebels tighten grip on Sanaa after Saleh’s assassination

Israel’s Syrian air strikes risk renewing escalation as Iran expands presence in Golan

Qatar to acquire 24 Typhoon fighters from UK

Bahraini civil society group criticised after Israel visit

Israel PM faces renewed pressure in Europe

Palestinian stabs Israeli guard in ‘terrorist’ attack

UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed says US Jerusalem decision could help terrorists

Fateh encourages more protests, refuses to meet Pence

Chinese electric carmaker to open Morocco factory

Iraqi victory over IS remains fragile