Tensions emerged between Sunni institution Al-Azhar and the Shi’a Iraqi government, over alleged violations by members of the Shi’a Popular Mobilization Forces.
The paramilitary forces have been a main pillar of the Iraqi government’s military operations to repel forces of “Islamic State” (IS).
On Wednesday, the foremost Sunni institution, Al-Azhar, condemned what it referred to as the “slaughter and violations” committed by the “Popular Mobilization Militias” against Sunni Iraqi citizens in Tikrit.
Tikrit is among the cities IS lost to the Iraqi army, following violent confrontations.
Al-Azhar mentioned that the victims of the militias “do not belong to IS”. It described the militants, as “extremists”, who committed crimes of “displacement, murder, public executions, and the burning of mosques”.
“Al-Azhar calls upon the international community and human rights organisations to immediately intervene to stop such violations”.
It also demanded the Iraqi government should condemn the practices, and reconsider cooperating with “extremist militias”.
Pro-government forces, mainly the Shi’a paramilitary forces, have been endorsed by the Iraqi government to assist the official security forces in the counter insurgency against IS forces.
“We were shocked by Al-Azhar’s statement, which accuses the Popular Mobilization [Forces], which fights with [Iraqi] security forces to defend Iraq, its sovereignty, and its peoples,” Iraqi Vice President Nouri Al-Maliki said in a Friday statement.
Al-Maliki, a vocal supporter of the Popular Mobilization Forces, asserted that Al-Azhar should have depended on “documented facts and not rumours spread by un-trusted preachers who incite sectarian conflict, while ignoring crimes committed by IS”.
Since 2012, Al-Maliki, as head of the state, was challenged with protests and a violent militant insurgency, led by Sunni militants on the Syria-Iraq border, now known as “Islamic State”.
“The population forces consist of Shi’a and Sunni [fighters],” Al-Maliki said, arguing that they deserve respect from all Muslims.
“Al-Azhar fell into the trap of IS” – instead of collectively uniting against terrorism, Al-Azhar joined the campaign to distort the image of the Shi’a fighters, the Iraqi Vice President added.
The Popular Mobilization Forces came to the scene after the city of Mosul fell into the hands of IS militants in August 2014. The forces were mobilised after the country’s much respected Shi’a preacher Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani issued a religious decree (fatwa) calling for Jihad against the Sunni militants.
Reports have mentioned that Shi’a militias had arrested residents in Sunni areas retaken after successful confrontations with IS militants. In some cases, the arrests and violation are justified by claiming that the victims were affiliated with IS, or were members of former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein’s army.
Since the beginning of the insurgency last year, many Saddam loyalists have joined IS.
Egypt’s diplomatic support to the Iraqi government against IS militants has been increasing since last year.
Also, Al-Azhar, along with the Ministry of Endowments and Dar Al-Ifta, have severely condemned violations committed by IS militants.