WASHINGTON — Iraq’s top Shiite cleric urged Iraqis to unite to expel radical Sunni militants from the country and called for the formation of a new government during a sermon on Friday.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said the winning parties from Iraq’s recent parliamentary elections need to “engage in dialogue” in order form a government that will function well and avoid “past mistakes”_a thinly veiled critique of Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia politician who has served as Iraq’s prime minister since 2006.
Maliki has come under increasing criticism for failing to include Iraqi’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities in the political process.
Sistani’s message was delivered by his representative Ahmed al-Safi during Friday prayers in the holy city of Karbala.
The 83-year-old Iranian-born cleric decried the Sunni militant group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, as a “plague” on the region. If Iraqis don’t overcome sectarian differences and join together to fight the militants, he said, “everyone will regret it tomorrow, when regret has no meaning.”
He said his call for Iraqis to fight ISIS was intended for all citizens regardless of sect. Volunteers should join the official security forces, not religious militias, he said.
The sermon comes a day after President Barack Obama announced he would send up to 300 American military advisers to Iraq to help the country assess how best to fight ISIS, which has taken over much of northern Iraq, including Mosul, the country’s second-largest city.