Iran’s senior general Qassem Suleimani, the head of the elite Quds Force, has warned Bahrain of “dire repercussions, including armed struggle by the people and the overthrow of the al-Khalifa dynasty,” in the wake of Manama’s decision to revoke the citizenship of top Shiite cleric Sheikh Issa Qassem, Iran’s semi-official news agency Fars reported on Monday.
“In a rare statement issued on Monday, General Suleimani warned the Manama regime that in case of any insult or disrespect for Sheikh Qassem, the toppling of the regime will only be a small part of the repercussions that will also include armed resistance,” the news agency said.
“The General blasted the Manama regime for its unacceptable and inhuman oppression, discrimination, injustice and humiliation against the Muslim Bahraini nation, and said people on the tiny Persian Gulf island have so far tolerated the al-Khalifa regime’s apartheid and heavy pressures and continued their uprising peacefully despite the fact that a number of their political and religious leaders have been arrested, their women and children have been imprisoned and tortured, and some others have been stripped of their citizenship and undergone intensifying pressures with their rights trampled upon,” Fars added.
“The al-Khalifa rulers seem to be taking advantage of the peaceful movement of the people and are miscalculating the extent of public fury,” Suleimani reportedly said.
“They certainly know that trespassing the sanctuary of Ayatollah Sheikh Issa Qassem is a red line whose crossing will set fire to Bahrain and the entire region and leave people with no other option but armed resistance,” Fars quoted the general as saying.
“The al-Khalifa rulers will pay the price of such an action whose endpoint will be nothing but the annihilation of this tyrannical regime,” the Iranian Quds Force Commander reportedly warned.
Sheikh Issa Qassem, considered the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s Shiite community, abused his position to “serve foreign interests and promote… sectarianism and violence,” Bahrain’s interior ministry said earlier on Monday.
He had been a strong proponent of “absolute allegiance to the clergy,” while maintaining continuous contact with “organizations and parties that are enemies of the kingdom,” it charged.
There was no immediate indication of Qassem’s fate but, in theory, he would be left stateless and could face deportation through a legal process.
In 2015, authorities stripped 208 Bahrainis of their citizenship, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch. It says at least five people whose nationality had been revoked were deported in February and March.
The decision against Qassem follows the suspension of Bahrain’s main Shiite opposition group, al-Wefaq, whose political chief Sheikh Ali Salman is serving a nine-year jail term on charge of inciting violence.
The latest move in the escalating crackdown on opposition triggered fresh tensions and street protests in Qassem’s home village of Diraz, west of the capital Manama, witnesses said.
General Suleimani is the leader of the Quds Force – a division primarily responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations.
Earlier in the day, Fars said Suleimani was in Syria in preparation for “a large-scale operation by the Syrian army and popular forces in southern Aleppo,” quoting the media center of Hezbollah al-Nujaba, a major Iraqi Shiite militant movement.
“Suleimani has traveled to Syria after intensified clashes between the government forces and terrorists in southern Aleppo province,” Fars added.
It said Suleimeni was in Syria on Sunday to be briefed on “events and operations of Nujaba forces in southern Aleppo.”
“The Quds Force commander was in Iraq in recent days to render advisory services to the Iraqi forces in operations to liberate Fallujah” from the hands of the jihadist Islamic State group, the news agency added.