TEHRAN: A leading Iranian general has warned Bahrain that its decision to strip the Gulf state's Shia spiritual leader of his citizenship will fan armed rebellion in the Shia-majority kingdom.
The warning from General Qassem Suleimani, head of the elite Revolutionary Guards' overseas operations arm, the Quds Force, came after Washington too strongly criticised the move by its Gulf Arab ally.
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"Surely they know that the aggression against Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim is a red line... that will leave no option for the people but to resort to armed resistance," Suleimani told state media late on Monday..
Bahrain's rulers "will pay the price and it will have no result but the destruction of this bloodthirsty regime," he added.
It was a rare public pronouncement from Suleimani. As Iran has stepped up its military involvement in neighbouring Iraq and in Syria, he has adopted an increasingly high profile but he still rarely speaks out on policy issues.
Bahrain revokes Shia cleric's citizenship over charges of ‘sectarian divisions’
Iran has long championed the rights of Bahrain's Shia majority against the kingdom's autocratic Sunni ruling family.
But it denies Manama's accusations that it has incited violence in the kingdom.
The Bahraini interior ministry alluded to the accusations in its statement announcing the decision against the Shia spiritual leader on Monday.
Sheikh Qassim abused his position to "serve foreign interests and promote... sectarianism and violence," it said.
Bahrain has been shaken by unrest since security forces crushed Shia-led protests demanding a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister in 2011.
Those protests were followed by demonstrations in Shia-majority areas of neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
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In January, Saudi authorities executed Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was a prominent figure in those demonstrations.
His execution sparked protests in Tehran and Iran's second city Mashhad that saw Saudi diplomatic missions torched and diplomatic relations cut.
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