NAJAF, Iraq (AFP) – Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani, Iraq’s highest Shiite religious authority, on Thursday lashed out at lawmakers who had left on a pilgrimage instead of voting on a divisive US military pact.
“Sistani is very angry at the parliamentarians who went on the Haj and ignored the call of the Guide to assume their national and historical responsibility to give their opinion frankly about the agreement,” an official from Sistani’s office told AFP.
His remarks came hours before parliament was to hold a second reading of the wide-ranging accord, which would allow US troops to remain in Iraq for three years after their current UN mandate expires December 31.
The agreement was approved by Iraq’s cabinet on Sunday with the support of all the major blocs representing Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, but has drawn fire from Shiite hardliners loyal to the anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
The reclusive Sistani — who usually communicates through close advisers and other associates — has said he opposes any agreement that infringes on Iraq’s “sovereignty” but that the government should make the final decision.
The official in his office said the lawmakers who had left for the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca had “run away from their responsibilities and scoffed at the millions of voters who have elected them.”
“It’s even more of a pity because some of them are members of the United Iraqi Alliance who claim to work according to the instructions of the Guide (Sistani),” he added, referring to the largest political bloc in parliament.
“They say they are committed to his instructions but they are not obeying the words of the Guide which are in the interests of the country.”
Parliament was to hold a second reading of the pact after deputies loyal to Sadr shouted down the deal Wednesday, forcing a postponement.
Sadr’s movement has also vowed to hold a mass demonstration on Friday protesting any agreement with the US “occupier.”