Muqtada al-Sadr march 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
An influential Iraqi cleric living in Iran on Wednesday issued a religious decree - a fatwa - blasting the US-Iraqi security pact that would keep American troops in Iraq for three more years and warned Iraqi leaders not to back the deal.
The Iranian-born Ayatollah Kazim al-Hosseini al-Haeri called the proposed agreement "haram" - which in Arabic means "forbidden" by Islam - and said that approving the deal would be "a sin God won't forgive."
Al-Haeri, based in the Iranian holy city of Qom, has Iraqi nationality and is believed to be a mentor of anti-US Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr whose followers oppose the deal. The fatwa was posted on al-Haeri's Web site.
In the edict, the cleric claimed the US is pressuring the Iraqi government to approve the deal which brings "humiliation and sacrifices Iraq's national sovereignty."
Tens of thousands of al-Sadr followers rallied in Baghdad against the deal on Saturday. The mass public show of opposition came as US and Iraqi leaders face a Dec. 31 deadline to approve the deal which would replace an expiring UN mandate authorizing the US-led forces in Iraq.
Al-Haeri, who is believed to enjoy a large following in Iraq, blasted the US presence in the neighboring country.
"We are aware that the occupying forces are pressuring the Iraqi government to accept the humiliating deal ... we know that this deal will undermine Iraq's national sovereignty and that approving it will mean accepting humiliation and misery," al-Haeri said.
Iraq's Cabinet decided Tuesday to ask the US for changes to the draft agreement as key Shi'ite lawmakers warned the deal stands little chance of approval as it stands. The decision also raised doubt that the agreement can be ratified before a new American president is elected next month.
If the Iraqi Parliament fails to approve the draft before Dec. 31, there would be no legal basis for the US-led military mission to stay on. This in turn could force hard decisions in Baghdad and Washington on the future of the unpopular war.
Despite months of tortuous negotiations, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his ministers now are seeking changes that would make the draft acceptable nationwide. Al-Maliki wants his coalition Cabinet of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to sign off on the draft before he sends it to parliament.
The Iraqi prime minister, who is a Shiite, fears he could end up politically isolated if he pushes forward with the controversial agreement without solid political backing.
The agreement calls for US troops to leave Iraqi cities by the end of June and withdraw from the country by Dec. 31, 2011, unless the government asks them to stay. It would also provide limited Iraqi jurisdiction over US soldiers and contractors accused of major, premeditated crimes committed off post and off duty.
Iran, which is close to Shiite parties who dominate Iraq's government, has repeatedly expressed its opposition to any security deal that allows American forces to remain in Iraq. Tehran contends that the American presence is the cause of instability in Iraq and the region.
Iran's hard-line newspapers have said the US-crafted deal would "turn Iraq into a full-fledged colony" and have urged Iraqis to oppose the proposed deal.