Top Iraqi cleric warns of ‘foreign influence’ in elections

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s top Shiite cleric has warned that “foreign influence” in the upcoming national elections could undermine the country’s ability to carry out a free and fair vote.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s message, delivered by his representative Sheikh Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalai after Friday prayers in Karbala, emphasizes that Iraq’s Shiite religious leadership does not support any one candidate or party.

Sistani is also calling on all Iraqis to vote in the elections, scheduled for May 12, but says votes should not be award to Iraqi officials currently in office who have proven to be ineffective or corrupt.

Sistani is one of the most respected voices in Iraq and after a fatwa he issued in 2014 that mobilized thousands to fight the Islamic State group, he launched a campaign against government corruption.