Najaf (Iraq): The brutal conflict in Iraq is not between Shias and Sunnis, but against the dreaded Islamic State militant group which is killing members of both the sects, an Indian-origin top Shia cleric here has said.
"Daesh is a brutal terrorist group which is killing both Shias and Sunnis. They are killing everyone," said Grand Ayatollah Bashir Hussain al-Najafi.
He said the fight in Iraq is not between Shias and Sunnis.
"It was against Daesh," said Najafi, a close aide of Grand Ayatollah Syed Ali Sistani.
He also criticised the Western media for projecting the war in Iraq as sectarian conflict, saying Shia and Sunni are brothers and they are together fighting against ISIS and liberated several cities from them.
"During a war the most important posts are that of defence minister and head of the state. In Iraq both positions now are headed by Sunnis," the cleric said.
"The terrorists are enemy of Iraq. Those who paint this conflict as a sectarian war are trying to destabilise Iraq," he said, adding that this war is between Iraqis and terrorists.
He also slammed some foreign forces for destabilising Iraq, saying these powers are attempting to bring back the old regime by destroying democracy in the country.
Daesh or ISIS has killed and displaced thousands of Sunnis in Iraq, prompting Sunni tribes to join the Shia-dominated paramilitary forces to fight against them, a senior tribal leader-turned military commander has said.
"Daesh entered into Iraqi cities saying Sunnis are in danger and they have come to protect them. And they succeeded to some extent," said Sheikh Mohammed Mikhlif, a Sunni Hashd al-Shaabi Commander and in-charge of operations in Anbar province.
"But they occupied our land and suppressed us. They have killed thousands of Sunnis and Shias both and displaced them," Mikhlif, also the chief of Albu Shaban tribe in war-torn Anbar province, told a group of visiting Indian journalists.
Mikhlif said that a number of Sunni tribes in the contested province joined the government forces and the paramilitary Hashd al-Shaabi or the Popular Mobilisation Forces, a state-sponsored umbrella organisation composed of several armed groups formed in 2014 to fight against the ISIS.
The underpowered Iraqi army, which lost several cities to ISIS, has been relying heavily on Hashd soldiers to regain the control over lost cities.
Mikhlif said Najaf-based Grand Ayatollah Sistani's call to defend the nation brought Shias in Sunni areas to fight against Daesh and protect the Iraqi nation.
"When we see the Shias from southern cities of Basra or Karbala come to Anbar to protect us, it gives us strength to fight against Daesh," he said.