REG 191213 Iraq Christmas Tree-1576240274692
People pass by a Christmas tree with portraits of anti-government protesters who killed under fire from security forces in Tahrir Square during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019. A gunman shot dead several people, including four protesters, Thursday provoking some anti-government demonstrators to disarm and hang him in a central Baghdad square, security and health officials said. The incident was condemned by the wider protest movement based in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the movement, who said the individuals who killed the gunman were not part of their peaceful demonstrations. Image Credit: AP

Baghdad: Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on Friday condemned recent killings and kidnappings of protesters, urging the state to assert control over the widespread use of weapons.

He also called on the armed forces to remain professional, loyal to the state and free from foreign influence, a representative of Sistani said during a sermon on Friday in the holy city of Kerbala.

Armed forces “must be loyal to the nation, and free from foreign interference,” he said.

Iraq has been rocked anti-government protests for more than two months.

More than 440 people have been killed since Oct. 1, according to a Reuters tally.

Sistani, who rarely weighs in on politics except in times of crisis, holds massive influence over public opinion in Shiite majority Iraq.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said he would resign last month after Sistani withdrew his support for the government.