Iraq’s top cleric to have surgery after accident at home

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani will undergo a surgery for a fractured bone following an accident in his home, his office said yesterday.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who turns 90 later this year and whose opinion is often sought during troubled times, fractured a thigh bone when he slipped while bathing before evening prayers on Wednesday night, according to two officials close to the cleric.

The surgery is considered risky for his age, and comes amid ongoing tensions in Iraq following the United States (US) killing of a top Iranian general and a popular protest movement against the country’s ruling elite.

Al-Sistani was taken to a hospital in southern Iraq outside of his home in the holy city of Najaf yesterday morning to undergo the operation. “The problem is not with the operation, the problem is with old age,” said one official.

News of the surgery sparked a flurry of well-wishes on social media. Al-Sistani, whose opinion holds sway over many Iraqis, has been critical in calming tensions in recent months as the country faced crisis after crisis beginning with mass protests seeking to unseat the political establishment and the recent US drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

The subtle messaging in his weekly sermons and commentary have steered politics during the difficult times. He emerged as a key supporter of the protest movement, calling for electoral reforms and the rights of the people.

His withdrawal of support for the government of Adel Abdul-Mahdi triggered the premier’s resignation in last December.

Shiite pilgrims pass a poster of spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Baghdad, Iraq. PHOTO: AP