Top Iraq Shiite cleric urges fighters to protect ‘innocents’
Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, on Friday urged those fighting the Islamic State jihadist group to protect civilians in Sunni battlezones.
ISIS, a Sunni extremist group that has carried out a wave of atrocities, spearheaded a sweeping militant offensive in June that overran large areas of Iraq.
Baghdad bolstered its forces by allowing a resurgence of Shiite militias, but rights groups say they have committed crimes against Sunnis including summary executions and torture.
“What is requested from you, O heroic fighters and volunteers, is to hold the ground that was cleared of the terrorists and cooperate with the sons of the areas that the terrorists control in order to cleanse it of them,” Sistani’s representative said on his behalf at Friday weekly prayers.
“It is up to you to protect the lives of the innocent citizens and protect their property … whatever confession they may belong to,” he said.
“Beware, beware that you touch anything that belongs to them or hurt any of them — that is haram (forbidden by Islam),” he added.
Sistani, who is revered by millions, has enormous influence among Iraq’s Shiite majority.
The cleric also paid tribute to members of the Albu Nimr, a Sunni tribe, more than 40 of whom were killed by ISIS in apparent retaliation for its decision to fight against them.
“We offer our condolences to the families of the dear innocent victims and we show our compassion for them,” Sistani said.
“The salvation of Iraq from (IS) is not possible unless the efforts of all its sons are united.”