Iraqi Shiite cleric calls on premier to avoid promoting sectarianism in new national guard

Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has called upon the prime minister to create a national security force that doesn't promote sectarianism at a time of heightened tensions between ethnic and religious groups.

The national guard, proposed by Iraq's new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, should be a force of "patriotism and purity" to help pull the country out of the crisis, the reclusive al-Sistani said in his Friday sermon delivered by his spokesman Abdul Mehdi Karbalaie in the city of Karbala.

Militants with Islamic State group too parts of western and northern Iraq this year, causing the Iraqi military to fracture while tensions intensified between Muslim sects.

Al-Sistani called upon al-Abadi to select a defense and interior minister following the Islamic Eid al-Adha holiday next week.