Iraqi religious leaders, demonstrators, officials and dignitaries condemned a recent statement released by al-Qaeda in Iraq claiming support for demonstrations, describing it as a "farce" and an attempt by the group to regain lost popularity.
Al-Qaeda's Monday (January 21st) statement "saluting" protesters came after weeks of demonstrations calling for improved government services and better practices inside jails, among other demands.
Mohammad Sobhi, spokesman for the demonstrators in Samarra, Salaheddine province, described al-Qaeda's declaration of support for the demonstrations as "an attempt to regain its lost popularity, but this will not work, nor will it redeem its position".
"At any rate, al-Qaeda does not seek our interests, because whoever seeks our interests would not kill us," Sobhi told Mawtani. "Al-Qaeda promotes its own interests and is trying to shuffle the cards and promote chaos on which it thrives and becomes stronger."
"We will not allow this, for we are committed to a specific site for staging demonstrations, and will not allow any germ from them to join our ranks at any cost," he added.
"The demonstrators' message to al-Qaeda is that rights are obtained through peace, law and order, not through terrorism and blind violence," Sobhi said.
Sheikh Ali al-Hatem, emir of al-Dulaim tribesmen in Anbar province, denounced al-Qaeda's declaration of support for the protests and described it as a "farce".
Al-Qaeda should "stop killing children and the poor people of Iraq, stop its bombing operations of electricity transmission towers and oil and gas pipelines, and stop destroying the country's infrastructure", before it attempts to give support, al-Hatem told Mawtani. "We demand upon them to leave and disappear from here."
"Al-Qaeda's statement is an attempt to sow sedition between the Iraqi communities, undermine the demonstrations and target protesters with booby-trapped [cars]," he said. "This will no longer be tolerated by anyone."
On January 12th, Iraqi police arrested three gunmen who they said were trying to attack a demonstration of several hundred people in the district of al-Madaen, south of Baghdad.
Religious leaders in Anbar denounced al-Qaeda's statement and warned demonstrators the organisation is trying to infiltrate the demonstrations in an attempt to exploit their peaceful nature and turn them into acts of violence on its behalf.
Sheikh Abdullah al-Hashemi, spokesman for the Anbar Scholars Council, told Mawtani that peaceful demonstrations are considered a healthy democratic practice which must not deteriorate in any way into a state of violence and security chaos.
The Anbar Scholars Council "calls on demonstrators […] to stop al-Qaeda and any other terrorist organisations from using the demonstrations or steering them away from their peaceful framework, and report any terrorists who infiltrate their ranks," al-Hashemi said.
"Al-Qaeda infiltration of those demonstrations means aborting them", he added.
Al-Hashemi said al-Qaeda's statement is "laughable and deserves derision," adding, "al-Qaeda should be aware that violence cannot be the present identity of Iraqi citizens".
Sheikh Abdullah al-Mufti, member of the Fallujah Scholars Council and one of the organizers of the demonstrations, said, "No welcome is extended to al-Qaeda and its cohorts."
"We return and reject their salutes of the demonstrators," al-Mufti told Mawtani. "They should stop their evil and their car bombings before thinking of backing the demonstrations."
"Iraqi youths have rights guaranteed by the constitution and the laws, and blessed by religious leaders and all Iraqis, and that is the right to demonstrate and rally, and the freedom to issue newsletters, magazines and books, as well as the ability to act through social media and to resort to the judiciary," al-Mufti said.
"All these are potent ways in which we have faith, because they do not lead to shedding even one drop of blood," he said. "As for al-Qaeda's methods, we tried it and tasted its bitterness. We, as religious men and citizens in the first place, are very satisfied with the substantial rejection we found among the demonstrators over the last al-Qaeda statement."
"We will not allow any member of them, or extremist, to take part or attempt to climb the podiums at the demonstrations squares, whether in Fallujah, or any other city, to speak or to infuse their poison," he said. "This was agreed to by the demonstrations' special co-ordinating committees."
Government officials also condemned the al-Qaeda statement, saying it does not serve the best interests of the Iraqi people.
"Al-Qaeda was never concerned with the interests of Iraqi citizens," said government media advisor Ali al-Musawi. "It always sought to find a way to kill them and shed their blood. We believe all Iraqis have come to recognise al-Qaeda's intentions, which is what makes its plan, whatever it may be, a given failure."