AP: An influential Iraqi cleric living in Iran on Wednesday issued a fatwa condemning a U.S.-Iraqi security pact that would keep American troops in Iraq for three more years and warned Iraqi leaders not to back the deal.
The Associated Press
By ALI AKBAR DAREINI
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — An influential Iraqi cleric living in Iran on Wednesday issued a fatwa condemning a U.S.-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-U.S. Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose followers oppose the deal. The fatwa, or religious decree, was posted on al-Haeri's Web site.
In the edict, the cleric claimed the U.S. is pressuring the Iraqi government to approve the security pact.
"We know that this deal will undermine Iraq's national sovereignty and that approving it will mean accepting humiliation and misery," al-Haeri said.
Tens of thousands of al-Sadr followers rallied in Baghdad against the proposal on Saturday. The mass public show of opposition came as U.S. and Iraqi leaders face a Dec. 31 deadline to replace the U.N. mandate authorizing the U.S.-led forces in Iraq.
Iraq's Cabinet decided Tuesday to ask the U.S. for changes to the draft agreement as key Shiite lawmakers warned the deal stands little chance of approval as it stands. The decision also raised doubts 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 the U.N. mandate expires Dec. 31, there would be no legal basis for the U.S.-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 backing.
The agreement calls for U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S.-crafted deal would "turn Iraq into a full-fledged colony" and have urged Iraqis to oppose the proposed deal.