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."