BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's Shiite spiritual leader on Friday demanded the country's politicians work to restore security, saying their conflicts were to blame for attacks like the devastating bombings that tore through mostly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad and killed at least 69 people.
The calls by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, made by his representative in a Friday prayer sermon, implicitly hit on the political showdown between the Shiite prime minister and the top Sunni political leader in the country, against whom the government put out an arrest warrant, accusing him of running hit squads.
Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi has denied the charges, which have fueled Sunni fears that the minority community is being pushed out of influence by the Shiite-dominated government.
Al-Sistani's aide Ahmed al-Safi did not specifically mention the conflict or any of the players in it, but his comments seemed to be a call for Sunni politicians to back down.
If someone is "dealing with terrorism, what should we do? What is the punishment that he must face after knowing that he is a killer?" al-Safi said in his sermon in the holy city of Karbala.
"The prestige of the government must be preserved ... part of its prestige is punishing abusers," he said. "The security file is not a luxury! People can be patient with lack of electricity, or lack of services, but not blood. They cannot be patient over their blood. Wyy don't you exert your efforts to preserve the blood of these people?"
Al-Sistani, who is in his mid 80s, is the most respected cleric among Iraq's Shiite majority. But he rarely appears in public and stopped meeting with politicians since around the middle of this year. He usually makes his positions known through his representative at the prayer sermon.
Sixteen blasts across Baghdad on Thursday also wounded nearly 200 people, evoking fears Iraq could dissolve into a new round of sectarian violence now that American troops have left.
Al-Safi condemned the bombing, saying, "The people are looking forward for a new life after the departure of the foreign forces, instead they face massacres."
"Politicians, be merciful with this country. You are dragging the country with your crises and you are held responsible."
These calls were echoed by other Shiite and Sunni clerics. Muqtada al-Sadr, a radical cleric, whose militiamen were blamed for sectarian killings during the worst of Iraq's violence, issued a statement, calling the conflict among Iraqi politicians as "the conflict of the mighty" which "led to the deterioration of the fragile security."
The preacher of Abu Hanifa, the main Sunni mosque in Baghdad, also criticized the Iraqi leaders who "preoccupy themselves with side issues and conflicts and ignore essential issues. You (politicians) have to pay heed to reunite Iraqis. You have to give up hatred, killing and intimidation," Sheik Ahmed al-Taha told worshippers in his sermon.
"Do not let our defeated enemy (the Americans) say that we are unable to continue with them," he added.
Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.