January 15, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8497

Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani Counters Muqtada Al-Sadr's Call For Anti-U.S. March, Warns Against 'Those Seeking To Exploit Protests To Achieve Certain Goals'

January 15, 2020
Iraq | Special Dispatch No. 8497

Following Muqtada Al-Sadr's call for a one-million-man march to end the presence of the U.S. military in Iraq, a website funded by Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani's Al-Kafeel International Network released a statement from the Grand Ayatollah made in December 2019 reminding Iraqis that there are some parties that wish to exploit them in order to serve the agendas of others. The following report will examine Al-Sistani's recent warning, instructions from Al-Sadr to his supporters, and related reactions.

The Al-Sistani Response To Al-Sadr

On January 15, 2020, a website associated with Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, warned against the call of Muqtada Al-Sadr, whom Iraqi protestors see as Iran's new favorite Shi'ite cleric in Iraq, for a massive demonstration to end the U.S. military presence in Iraq.[1]

The official website of Al-A'taba Al-Abassyia, which covers activities related to Imam Abbas'[2] shrine in Karbala, Iraq, and is sponsored by Al-Sistani's Al-Kafeel International Network, re-published a statement that the Ayatollah made on December 6, 2019, in which he strongly warned "against those who seek to exploit the protests that call for reforms in order to achieve certain goals that will hurt the utmost interests of the Iraqi people, and are not in line with their true values."

"We are here republishing the Highest Authority's sermon from December 6, 2019, as a warning,"[3] the website explains. The website also tweeted the statement using a hashtag[4] that translates to "Tahrir Square," the key location for the anti-government protesters in Baghdad.

Over the past three months, Al-Sistani has been critical of Iran's use of Iraq as a proxy battleground for their war against the U.S., as well as the involvement of Iran-backed Iraqi militias in the killing of protesters. Al-Sistani also condemned the recent American and Iranian attacks in Iraq, saying they represent "flagrant violations of Iraq's sovereignty."

Al-Sistani's warning (Source:

Al-Sadr Issues Instructions For Supporters

On his side, Muqtada Al-Sadr's online spokesman, who goes under the name Saleh Mohammad Al-Iraqi, tweeted[5] instructions for Al-Sadr's supporters regarding the mass demonstration that Al-Sadr and commanders of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) called for on January 14. 

Al-Sadr's Instructions (Source:

"We will demonstrate to denounce the occupation and its violations of Iraq's sovereignty. To live in a safe Iraq with our peaceful neighbors and friends," it says.

The statement stresses that those who will take part in the demonstration should only raise the Iraqi flag, and should, preferably, wear white shrouds, a sign that reflects "their readiness to sacrifice their lives for the love of their homeland."

Demonstrators are then instructed not to chant slogans that would offend anyone but "the occupier," stressing that the "revolution is an Iraqi one," not associated with "the east or west."[6]

The statement further says that "no photos or signs that indicate any political, military, jihadi, ethnic, or religious affiliation shall be used in the demonstration." The statement also urges supporters to be prepared to hold sit-ins and hunger-strikes, as well as other forms of "peaceful protest."

Although it says that the location of the demonstration will be announced later, the statement hints that the location could be in the same public squares where the anti-government protesters are gathered: "We shall demonstrate in the squares that call for reforms, those who are there are our brothers, their goal is our goal, their demands are ours."

"[There shall be] no acts of sabotage against private or public properties, particularly [against] the state-institutions and diplomatic headquarters, absolutely not," it says. The statement concludes by saying that the demonstration will start at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, January 24, in Baghdad.

Iraqis Opposing Al-Sadr's Call

Meanwhile, some Iraqis responded to Al-Sadr's call for a "one-million-man march" with a social media campaign titled "Muqtada Does Not Represent Me," sharing posts and images that accuse him of attempting to hijack the anti-government protests and questioning his loyalty to Iraq.

Caption [Left][7] Muqtada does not represent me, [Right][8] how do you want us to believe you when you are acting like the "joker" card for Iran (Source:

Photos and videos of anti-government protesters in various Iraqi cities were circulated on social media showing them chanting and holding signs condemning Al-Sadr and the commanders of the PMU for calling to end the U.S. military presence in Iraq.

A statement issued by the protesters rejects Al-Sadr's call, saying "a call that was released from an Iranian land against Washington is politicized, and does not represent us."[9]

Protesters in Baghdad hold a sign[10] that reads: To the so called “resistance of occupation, where have you been sleeping, Iraq has been occupied by Iran and the U.S. since 2003, why now? Or have you been busy with corruption." (Source:

Further Violations Of Iraqi Territory

In another development an "unidentified aircraft" on January 15 attacked a vehicle of a Yazidi militia affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq, leaving five militiamen dead, the Iraqi military said.

A brief statement[11] by the media office of the Iraqi Joint Operations Command(JOC) said that an unknown aircraft conducted an airstrike at 11:35 a.m. local time (0835 GMT) on a vehicle belonging to the Sinjar Protection Units (YBS), also known as the Shingal (Sinjar) Resistance Units, in the Hitteen area, west of Mosul.


[2] Imam Abbas was the son of Imam Ali, the first Shi'ite Imam. Imam Abbas is highly revered by Shi'ites.

[3], January 15, 2020.

[4], January 15, 2020.

[5], January 15, 2020.

[7] January 15, 2020.

[8], January 14, 2020.

[9], January 14, 2020.

[10], January 14, 2020.

[11], January 15, 2020.

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