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Iraq's Top Shi'ite Cleric Calls For Unity With Sunnis --> Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (file photo) (AFP) February 3, 2007 -- Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called today for Muslim unity and an end to sectarian conflict.

In his first public statement in many weeks, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said differences between Sunnis and Shi'ites have existed for centuries but should not be the cause for bloodshed.

The Iranian-born cleric, one of his country's most influential figures, cited what he called a "desperate need for unity and for renouncing divisions" and for "avoiding sectarian fanaticism."

Al-Sistani also accused unspecified individuals and groups of working to widen the schism among Muslims.

Al-Sistani was apparently referring to Abdullah bin Jabrain, a key member of Saudi Arabia's clerical establishment, who recently described Shi'ites as "the most vicious enemy of Muslims."

(AP, Reuters)

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