Iraq's Sistani condemns Nimr execution, Sadr organizes protests

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on Sunday condemned the execution of Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi Arabia while another leading cleric said he was organizing demonstrations in Baghdad and the southern city of Najaf.

Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia executed Nimr and three other Shi’ite Muslims alongside dozens of al Qaeda members on Saturday, drawing protests from Shi’ite-majority Iraq and other countries around the world against the kingdom’s ruling Al Saud family.

“We have received with much sorrow and regret the news of the martyrdom of a number of our brother believers in the region whose pure blood was shed in an unjust aggression,” Sistani said in a letter addressed to the population of Saudi Arabia’s eastern Qatif region where Nimr used to preach.

The opinion of Sistani, based in the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad, carries weight with millions of Shi’ites in Iraq and elsewhere.

Moqtada al-Sadr, an anti-American Shi’ite leader, called for “angry demonstrations” on Monday in Najaf and at the gate of Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone where the Saudi embassy is located.

Saudi Arabia reopened its Baghdad embassy last week after closing it in 1990 following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, but Nimr’s execution sparked calls from prominent religious and political figures to reverse the recent rapprochement with Riyadh.

Iraq’s foreign ministry also condemned Nimr’s execution, warning in a statement on Sunday that “it will not benefit stability in the region nor peace between the region’s peoples”.

Reporting by Stephen Kalin, Maher; Chmaytelli and Thaier al-Sudani; Editing by Alison Williams and Stephen Powell