Authorities looked the other way while the militiamen paraded on the streets since Friday, but the shows of strength prompted al-Sistani’s office to issue a clarification late Saturday, warning against “any behavior that has a sectarian or a nationalist character that may harm the cohesion of the Iraqi people.”
It also called for a halt to armed displays “outside legal frameworks” in mixed Shiite-Sunni area, urging authorities to take measures to stop them.
The words from al-Sistani’s representative on Friday, warning that the Sunni militants would not stop until they reach Baghdad, Karbala and Najaf — home to some of the most revered Shiite shrines — provided the militias with religious cover. The protection of shrines was also the rallying cry of Iraqi Shite militiamen who traveled to Syria to fight Sunni rebels.
“I fight for my faith, country and holy sites,” said Ayad al-Rubaei, a 23-year-old Asaib Ahl al-haq militiaman and veteran of the Syrian civil war.
“It is martyrdom that I seek, and I want it today, not tomorrow,” al-Rubaei told the AP by phone from Anbar province as heavy gunfire rang out in the background.
Prominent Sunni lawmaker Salim al-Jubouri told the AP that the shows of force by the Shiite militias and their proliferation “will pose a grave danger to Iraq in the future and threaten an armed conflict.”
“We say ‘no’ to the ISIL and ‘no’ to the militias,” he said.
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