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Iraqi Arrest of Iranian Cleric on Suspicion of Drug Trafficking Stirs Controversy

Iraqi Arrest of Iranian Cleric on Suspicion of Drug Trafficking Stirs Controversy

Wednesday, 17 April, 2019 - 10:00
Iraqi guards at a border crossing. (Getty Images)
Baghdad - Fadhel al-Nashmi
The Iraqi security forces’ arrest of an Iranian cleric on suspicion of drug trafficking at the Basra al-Shalamjah border crossing has sparked controversy on official, popular and religious levels.

The debate raged even further after a video of the arrest was circulated on social media. In it, security forces were seen insulting a Shiite cleric and accusing him of trafficking “red mercury”.

Deputy parliament Speaker Hassan al-Kaabi denounced the security forces’ “irresponsible behavior”. He said the video showed border security members arresting the cleric without completing preliminary procedures, which is a violation of human rights. He added that they defamed a person who has not yet been found guilty.

The popular reaction to the arrest varied between disdain and support, with requests for treating clerics like ordinary people should they break the law.

It is unclear whether the cleric belongs to a gang that regularly smuggles prohibited goods or if the security forces had violated their duties.

This ambiguity prompted the Interior Ministry to announced the detention of all the security members who apprehended the cleric.

In a statement, it said that inspector general Jamal al-Assadi called for an investigation into the incident and that a committee summoned the commander of the force which carried out the arrest.

The ministry said the commander and security forces reported that the arrest was carried out legally following intelligence and confessions of detained gang members.

In a dramatic development, another cleric, Wathiq al-Battat, of the so-called al-Mukhtar Army, published a video threatening the commander and the security forces.

Battat, who is known for his open loyalty to Iran, deemed the arrest an insult to every cleric in the world, claiming that “red mercury trafficking is a mythical charge.”

The Interior Ministry has since filed a lawsuit against Battat over his “barbaric” rhetoric and threats, comparing them to ISIS’ mentality. It instructed that all legal measures be taken against him ahead of bringing him to justice for his threats to the rule of law in Iraq.

It called on “the religious institution to continue to support the security establishment”.

Sairoon alliance MP Sabah al-Uqaili called on the government to take strict measures against Battat, while religious studies students at the Hawza of al-Najaf seminary disavowed the cleric over his remarks.

In a statement, they first condemned the unprofessional behavior of the border security forces towards the religious cleric and the video which slandered him. They also rejected Battat’s statements, deeming them “unacceptable” and a threat to public security.

They pointed out that Battat is known for his “disorderly behavior”, saying he had previously been arrested by the security services for making such statements against the state’s sovereignty and people’s security.

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