BAGHDAD: Iraq's top Shiite religious authority Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani urged fighters Friday to respect the rights of all Iraqis, regardless of sect or politics, after an escalation in apparent sectarian killings in recent weeks.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis responded to a call from Sistani on June 13 to take up arms against a Sunni insurgency that is raging in the country's north and west.
"We would like to stress to all our armed forces and those volunteers who have joined them ... the necessity of strict and full commitment in taking care of the rights of all the people," according to the text of a sermon delivered by a Sistani aide.
Fighters should "not ...transgress against any innocent citizen no matter their sectarian or ethnic affiliation or whatever their political stance," aide Abdul-Mehdi al-Karbala'i told worshippers at the Imam Hussein shrine in the Shiite holy city of Karbala.
Sistani's sermons are always delivered by an aide.
A senior Iraqi Shiite politician has told Reuters that in the first week after Sistani's call that Sunnis were killed by militias that had quickly mobilized. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the fighters had now been brought under control.
But Sunnis continue to speak of family members being taken away by security forces and militias and disappearing. Two days ago, 53 corpses, blindfolded and handcuffed, were found south of Baghdad.
Locals in the area say the dead are Sunni men who were taken away by security forces. It has not been possible to confirm these claims.