Sistani mobilises his 'believers' to march on Najaf in peace bid

The most venerated Shia cleric in Iraq made a sudden intervention in the Najaf crisis yesterday by returning to the country and calling on his supporters to march to the embattled holy city.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was expected in Najaf today after arriving yesterday in Basra from Kuwait as his lieutenants suggested that he had proposals for ending three weeks of fighting in the city.

Ayatollah Sistani's return came amid intense fighting around the streets leading to the compound of the Imam Ali shrine. US and Iraqi forces sought to tighten their narrowing cordon round the insurgent forces loyal to the militant Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr.

In Basra, Hayder al-Safi, a Sistani aide, read out a statement said to have been issued by the ayatollah. It said: "We ask all believers to volunteer to go with us to Najaf. I have come for the sake of Najaf and I will stay in Najaf until the crisis ends." Members of the ayatollah's team said he intended to depart for Najaf at 7am today. Aides to Sadr also called on their supporters to march to Najaf.

Two people were killed yesterday and five wounded as demonstrators set out to march to Najaf from Kufa.

Witnesses said the demonstrators had been chanting pro-Sadr slogans, but were also carrying pictures of the Ayatollah Sistani, and that Iraqi security forces had been responsible for the shootings.

The ayatollah, whose influence was underlined earlier this year when he pressed for an accelerated timetable for national elections, is sometimes seen as a moderating force in the Shia political scene.

He left Iraq the day after the present fighting erupted for heart treatment in London.

Earlier, police sealed off Najaf's old city, preventing cars from entering the grid of streets to its south-east and fired warning shots in the direction of civilian residents and reporters who attempted to pass them.

Meanwhile, armed police ordered about 50 journalists - including The Independent's correspondent - to leave their hotel at gunpoint and herded them into trucks and pick-ups to be driven at high speed to the police headquarters.

Police, some masked, shouted threats and abuse at the reporters, along with their Iraqi drivers and translators, and fired about a dozen shots inside and outside the hotel before taking them before the police chief, Major-General Ghaleb al-Jazaari, to hear his emotional complaints about media coverage and the sufferings of police officers during the present crisis. There were no injuries. One policeman declared: "You are responsible for many deaths", while another repeated earlier threats to blow up the hotel.

Maj-Gen Jazaari appeared especially exercised about a report on the Dubai-based al-Arabiya network - five of whose team in Najaf were briefly detained yesterday - which he said had claimed that the Ayatollah Sistani was already in Najaf. Al-Arabiya had taken its information from a "man of sedition" who was "used by Muqtada al-Sadr and people from al-Qa'ida".

He told the reporters that he had not been responsible for the way they had been summoned and added: "You are not arrested. We just brought you here to let you know what you are doing and what you have done. Of course, I want to speak with sensitivity with other countries."

The police chief brandished pictures of officers beaten by the Mehdi Army militiamen and added that his nephew, a police officer, had been beheaded. He added: "What can I do? Believe me I will listen to any suggestions. These are our people. They are killing us. We just represent the law. We want to live and we want our people to live." He said that police had not fired first in the incident at Kufa.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The cartoon depicts the UK (far left) walking around a Syrian child refugee
newsIn an exclusive artwork for The Independent, Ali Ferzat attacks Britain's lack of 'humanity'
Life and Style
Man taking selfie in front of car
health
Sport
footballManager attacks Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp after criticism of Diego Costa's apparent stamping
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Manager - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web-based lead generation ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore