BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric was recovering Thursday from surgery for a fractured bone following an accident in his home, officials said.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who turns 90 later this year and whose opinion is often sought during troubled times, fractured a thigh bone when he slipped while bathing before evening prayers Wednesday night, two officials close to the cleric said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details with the media.
A representative of al-Sistani said the cleric was in stable condition following the Thursday operation. He spoke at a press conference at the Kafeel hospital in the southern city of Karbala, where al-Sistani had been taken for the operation. The hospital’s medical team, speaking at the conference, said they expected a speedy recovery.
The surgery was considered risky for his age and came amid ongoing tensions in Iraq following the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general and a popular protest movement against the country’s ruling elite.
The surgery raised concern among al-Sistani’s followers.
“The problem is not with the operation, the problem is with old age,” s aid one of the officials close to the cleric.
News of the surgery sparked a flurry of well-wishes on social media and from Iraqi and diplomatic officials.
Caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said the government was at al-Sistani’s disposal to provide him with necessary care “inside or outside Iraq immediately,” according to a statement from his office.
The U.S. E mbassy in Baghdad said it has received “with great joy” news of al-Sistani’s successful surgery, noting his “ever-lasting stabilizing role.”
“He will be in our prayers during the recovery period, we hope it will be a speedy one,” the embassy said in a statement.
Al-Sistani, who’s opinion holds sway over many Iraqis, has been critical in calming tensions in recent months as the country faced crisis after crisis beginning with mass protests seeking to unseat the political establishment and the recent U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
The subtle messaging in his weekly sermons and commentary have steered politics during the difficult times.
When the Islamic State group overran vast swathes of Iraqi territory in the summer of 2014, al-Sistani issued a fatwa calling on all able-bodied men from across sectarian divides to take up arms and fight the group.
Recently, he emerged as a key supporter of the protest movement, calling for electoral reforms and the rights of the people. His withdrawal of support for Abdul-Mahdi’s government triggered the premier’s resignation in December.