Top Shiite cleric calls for unity government in Iraq

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 June, 2014, 11:23pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 June, 2014, 1:19am


Iraq's top Shiite cleric yesterday urged the country's fractious political leaders to unite and form a government to help stem advances by Sunni militants who have overrun large swathes of territory.

Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on the blocs to name a new prime minister, president and speaker of parliament by the time the new legislature meets on Tuesday.

"That is the beginning of the political solution that everyone is looking for," Abdul Mehdi Karbalai, speaking for Sistani, said during a Friday prayer sermon in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala.

Following previous elections, the president has typically been a Kurd, while a Shiite Arab has been prime minister and a Sunni Arab has been the speaker of parliament. But little progress on deciding the posts has been made in the face of the crisis.

"No one should think of division as a solution to the current crisis," said Karbalai.

"The solution that preserves the unity of Iraq and the rights of all its components according to the constitution is already there, and can be agreed on if the intentions are good from all sides."

Militants led by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant began a lightning offensive on June 9, capturing major cities and parts of five provinces north and west of Baghdad.

In the latest fighting, Iraqi forces fought for a strategically located university campus outside Tikrit yesterday and bombarded the city in an effort to retake it from the insurgents.

Iraqi forces swooped into Tikrit University by helicopter on Thursday, and a police major said there were periodic clashes between insurgents and security forces on the campus yesterday.

A senior army officer said that Iraqi forces were carrying out a major wave of air strikes against militants in Tikrit to protect the forces at the university and prepare for an assault on the city.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch released a report about the killings of scores of police and soldiers by Sunni militants in the days after it captured the northern city of Mosul on June 10.

The killings were widely reported after ISIL posted graphic, online photos showing dozens of bodies civilian clothes.

Human Rights Watch said that based on analysis of the photos and satellite imagery, the militants killed between 160 to 190 men in two locations in Tikrit between June 11 and June 14.

Those numbers would be higher, the group said, but for the difficulty of locating the bodies.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press