TEHRAN, Iran – A senior Shiite Muslim cleric in Iran called Friday for Iraq's government and Shiite militant groups to sit down for talks and end the bloodshed that has killed dozens of people this week.
A political discussion would be "in the interest of all," the official IRNA news agency quoted Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati as saying in his preach during Friday prayers in Tehran.
Dozens of Iraqis have died in ongoing clashes as Shiite militants and Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government forces face off in Baghdad and several southern Iraqi cities.
Anger has been growing among militants since the Iraqi government launched a crackdown against Shiite militia violence in the southern oil port of Basra earlier this week.
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's followers say security forces are abusing a cease-fire by his Mahdi Army militia to unfairly target them in raids.
The government says it is acting against criminal gangs.
"I advise the popular armed forces, that are present in Basra, to hold talks with the Iraqi popular government and pass their opinion to the government through talks," Janati said in his preach.
"Additionally, I recommend the Iraqi government to heed the forces' views and solve problems eventually in a way that would be to the interest of all," he said.
Iran's Shiite clerics and government hold considerable sway over militants from the Shiite majority in neighboring Iraq.
Janati, who is the Substitute Friday Prayers Leader of Tehran, does not belong to the Iranian government. Government officials were not immediately available for further comment Friday, the weekly religious holiday in Iran.