BAGHDAD, Iraq – Powerful cleric Moqtada al-Sadr vowed to "shake the ground" under the feet of advancing militants, risking ratcheting up sectarian tensions on Thursday in a crisis dividing Iraq along communal lines.
Sadr, whose movement battled US forces in Iraq, also voiced opposition to American military advisers meeting with Iraqi commanders combating an offensive that has overrun swathes of five provinces, killed more than 1,100 people, displaced hundreds of thousands and threatens to tear the Arab country apart – ideologically and geographically.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has warned rivals against exploiting the crisis to sideline him after the US urged Iraq's fractious political leaders to unite in the face of an onslaught led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Sadr's remarks came as security forces continued to repel assaults on critical towns and infrastructure, though ISIL's offensive was bolstered when fighters from Al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise made a local alliance with it.
"We will shake the ground under the feet of ignorance and extremism," Sadr said in a televised speech from the holy city of Najaf. He said that the foreign powers and especially forces of the occupier and regional states should take their hands off the country, referring to the US and Iraq's neighbours.
In an apparent effort to restrain worsening sectarian tensions, Sadr insisted that the militants did not represent Iraqi Sunnis, whom he said had suffered marginalisation and exclusion. The cleric's remarks came days after fighters loyal to him paraded with weapons in the Sadr City area of north Baghdad, vowing to fight the militant offensive.