The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has lashed out at Bahrain on Monday for stripping the top cleric of kingdom’s Shia majority of his citizenship. Gen. Qassem Soleimani warned the Bahraini rulers of crossing a “redline” by their move against Ayatollah Isa Qassim, and said it could set Bahrain on fire.
Qassim used his position to “serve foreign interests,” and endorse “sectarianism and violence,” the official Bahrain News Agency reported, quoting the country’s interior ministry. The spiritual leader has also, on several occasions, breached the law by issuing a religious rulings, or fatwas, and influenced voters using religion, according the report. Although Bahrain is a Shia majority country, its kingdom is Sunni.
The action triggered protesters who gathered near Qassim’s house in Diraz village on the northwest coast of Bahrain, reportedly chanting slogans disapproving King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and the government.
“The Al Khalifa [the rulers of Bahrain] seems to be misusing the peaceful movement of the people and is miscalculating the extent of public fury,” Soleimani said, warning that the move “will set fire to Bahrain and the entire region and leave people with no other option, but armed resistance,” according to Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency.
Soleimani also cautioned supporters of the Manama regime that any insult to Qassim will lead to “a bloody intifada [uprising] with consequences whose responsibility will fall on those who legitimize the arrogance of the Bahraini rulers.”
Qassim, who holds the high-ranking religious title of ayatollah, has supported protests led by the majority Shia community for civil and political rights. Bahrain’s decision to revoke Qassim’s citizenship also garnered criticism from the Iranian foreign ministry and the United States.
The Iranian interior ministry said that Bahrain’s action and similar decision would quash any hope of reformation in the country through peaceful dialog.
The U.S. Department of State issued a statement Monday saying that it was “alarmed” by the kingdom’s move.
“We remain deeply troubled by the Government of Bahrain’s practice of withdrawing the nationality of its citizens arbitrarily, the overall precedent that this case could establish, and the risk that individuals may be rendered stateless” the statement read. “Above all, we worry that this case, as well as other recent actions by the Government, will further divert Bahrainis from the path of reform and reconciliation.”