Iraq's leading Shia cleric, Ali Sistani, to undergo surgery

Iraq's leading Shia-Muslim cleric Ali Sistani to undergo surgery for fracture
3 min read
16 January, 2020
Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani suffered a fracture to his left thigh bone.
Religious leader of Iraq's Shiite majority Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani will undergo surgery [AFP/Getty]
The leading Iraqi Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani will undergo surgery Thursday after he suffered a fracture to his left thigh bone, a statement from his office said.

"Last night His Eminence Ayatollah Sistani had an incidental strain to his left leg which resulted in a fracture to his thigh bone and he will undergo surgery today," the statement read.

The surgery will be performed "under the supervision of an Iraqi medical team", the statement added.

Sistani is Iraq's most influential Shia cleric and has spoken out in support of the country's protest movement.

The injury to Iraq's highest Shia authority comes at a critical time for the region, amid escalating US-Iran tensions following the killing of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani.

Sistani broke with standard protocol to mourn Soleimani, sending a letter to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to offer his condolences. 

The Grand Ayatollah also publicly condemned the precision drone strike outside Baghdad airport which killed Soleimani and his Iraqi right-hand-man, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, calling it a "wanton attack" on the country.

In his weekly sermon delivered by his representative in the Shia holy city of Karbala, Sistani said the raid amounted to a "blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty".
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In December, the revered 89-year-old cleric called for early elections to end a political stalemate that has gripped protest-hit Iraq for months.

"The quickest and most peaceful way out of the current crisis and to avoid plunging into the unknown, chaos or internal strife... is to rely on the people by holding early elections," said a representative of Sistani, who never appears in public.

Sistani urged lawmakers to "form a new government as soon as possible" which should then speedily pave the way for new, free and fair elections, according to his representative, Abdel Mahdi al-Karbalai.

Iraq has been rocked by months of anti-government protests, the worst wave of unrest since a US-led invasion ended the reign of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The demonstrators, many of whom came of age after Saddam's death, have condemned the government for being inept, corrupt and beholden to powerful neighbour Iran and demanded the ouster of the entire political class.

Read more: Leaked Iran cables reveal the extent of puppeteer's grip on Iraq

Hundreds of people have been killed and 25,000 wounded in street violence in Baghdad and across the Shia-majority south.

Former premier Adel Abdel Mahdi quit in November in the face of the mass protests and after a sharp spike in deadly violence, and the deeply divided parliament has since struggled to find a replacement.

Sistani, who is said to have made and undone all Iraqi prime ministers since 2003, has been keeping his distance from the politicians who have been booed by protesters since the start of October.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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