Leading Iraqi cleric Sadr says Assad should step down

Leading Iraqi cleric Sadr says Assad should step down
One of Iraq's most influential Shia clerics had weighed in on the future of the Syrian conflict after the US launched its first direct attack on Bashar al-Assad's regime.
2 min read
08 April, 2017
Muqtada al-Sadr has in the past mobilised thousands supporters to demand reform in Iraq [AFP]

Firebrand Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, in a speech calling on all foreign parties to withdraw from Syria.

"The US should stay away from the crossfire of war in Syria," said Sadr in a statement released after the Pentagon launched an attack on Syria's Shayrat airbase on Thursday.

"All the external parties and their forces must withdraw from Syria," he added. "I also call on Bashar al-Assad to resign."

The cleric, who has in the past mobilised thousands of Iraqis in support of political causes, said that Syria will become another Vietnam if the US embarks on full-scale military intervention.

He also highlighted what he saw as the hypocrisy of the US killing civilians in airstrikes in Mosul, while at the same time condemning chemical attacks in Syria.

Given Sadr's huge influence, his words are particularly significant, particularly as Syria's Bashar al-Assad has relied heavily on Shia movements and militias - including many Iraqi ones - in his brutal war to regain control of Syria.

In March, Sadr mobilised thousands of protesters when he threatened to boycott Iraq's provincial elections as part of a "reform revolution".

Protests calling for reform spread in the summer of 2014 at a time when IS militants overran nearly a third of Iraq leading to a wave of largely civic and secular protests mobilising millions across the country.

Sadr's followers have been accused of engaging in a sectarian murders following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Militias alligned to the Sadr Movement have also played a role in the Syria war backing Bashar al-Assad's regime.