The January 24, 2020 sermon of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, Iraq's supreme Shi'ite religious authority, reiterated his position that all parties must respect Iraqi sovereignty and noted that Iraqis have the freedom to express, by any peaceful means, their demands for "whatever they find necessary to maintain Iraq's sovereignty without foreign influences."
The sermon coincided with a statement issued by Shi'ite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr today, who appears to have caught the commanders of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU) off guard when he announced his desire to avoid pushing Iraq into a confrontation with the U.S. following the latter's killing of IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi PMU deputy commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis.
This report will review the statements by Al-Sisani and Al-Sadr.
Sistani Calls For Speedy Government Formation
In his January 24 Friday sermon, which was delivered by his representative in the city of Karbala, Al-Sistani made a clear reference to the anti-government protests when he reminded the political elite of the "need to implement the reforms that people have long demanded and for which they have made many sacrifices."
Addressing the formation of a new Iraqi government, Al-Sistani noted: "Procrastination will only prolong the suffering of people and disturb the security and political stability of the country." He continued: "The formation of the Iraqi government is long overdue and [this delay] has grossly surpassed the constitutional limit. Thus, it is necessary for the parties and blocs to resolve this issue according to the previously discussed means. This is an important step in resolving the current crisis."
He further called on all parties to come together because Iraq is facing a "critical" crisis, and stressed that they should reach a consensus on the "dangerous issues that face the country and should "favor the greater interest of the Iraqi people above all other interests."
Al-Sistani's statement (Source: Sistani.org)
Al-Sadr Calls For Conditional Truce
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Meanwhile, populist Iraqi Shi'ite leader Muqtada Al-Sadr proposed, in a statement issued by his office the same day, a truce to end the U.S. military presence in Iraq, underlining that he does not want to push Iraq into a confrontation with the U.S.
The proposal came as massive crowds of his supporters gathered in Baghdad in response to his s call for a million-man anti-U.S. march. Several PMU commanders endorsed his call and rallied supporters to participate in a show of power against the U.S.
"Iraq and its people are exhausted by wars and catastrophes. Therefore, we will try our utmost to avoid pushing Iraq into another war with the occupier," said Al-Sadr.
In his statement, Al-Sadr set out several conditions for his proposed truce, including "the closure of all U.S. military bases on Iraqi soil, the departure of all foreign troops, [and] the closure of all U.S. security companies."
Al-Sadr's statement (Source:Jawabna.com)
U.S. aircraft, he said, should not be allowed to use Iraqi airspace and that Iraq should cancel all its security agreements with the U.S. because of their lack of "international balance, as they were signed when Iraq was still under occupation."
Adding that U.S. President Donald Trump should not be "arrogant" in his speeches or with his decisions concerning Iraq, he went on to call on neighboring countries "not to interfere in Iraq’s affairs should the occupier refused to leave the country."
He concluded: "If all the abovementioned points are implemented, we will commit to halting the resistance [movement] until the last [U.S.] soldier leaves." Additionally, he vowed to "punish any party violating the truce between the two parties and to integrate the Popular Mobilization Units into the Iraqi Ministries of Defense and Interior." He added: "If they are not [integrated], the PMU will obey the commands of the Iraqi Armed Forces Commander in Chief, since they will be part of the [Iraqi] security system."
Al-Sadr Criticizes Anti-Government Protesters
Later in the day, in a reference to anti-government demonstrators, Al-Sadr tweeted his disappointment in "all those who questioned" him, saying he that he would try not to interfere in their affairs one way or the other until they "take Iraq's interests into account."
Speaking of the formation of the government, the delay of which he is being blamed for by some politicians and demonstrators, Al-Sadr said that he rejects any politician who "delays the formation of a strong and sovereign government."
"I express my regret and disappointment to the demonstrators in Tahrir Square and the rest of the provinces who questioned me, whom I supported, after God, and whom I thought supported me and Iraq... However, from now on I will try not to interfere with them, neither negatively nor positively, until they take Iraq's interests into account."
Al-Sadr's tweet comes amid sharp criticism from the anti-government protesters who are wary that Al-Sadr and PMU commanders are trying to hijack their campaign and to shift its focus from calls for domestic reforms to an anti-U.S. campaign to serve an Iranian agenda.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. No. 8518, Muqtada Al-Sadr, Shi'ite Militia Leaders Ramp Up Calls For Anti-U.S. March, January 23, 2020.