By Haydar Hadi
ERBIL, Iraq (AA) – Ongoing army operations aimed at "liberating" Fallujah from the Daesh terrorist group are "destroying the city", Rafi al-Rifai, Iraq's grand mufti, the country’s highest Sunni-Muslim religious authority, said Friday.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, al-Rifai said that "thousands of Shite fighters loyal to Iranian Supreme Leader Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei and [Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander] Qasem Soleimani are taking part in the Fallujah operations".
"Orders for the Hashd al-Shaabi [an umbrella group of Shia militias] to enter the city were issued by Khamenei," he added.
"They want to destroy the city’s Sunni mosques. They have tortured civilians fleeing the city; humiliated and killed them," al-Rifai alleged.
"They seek revenge against the Sunnis, who are not even represented in Iraq’s parliament," he added.
He went on to criticize Iraqi Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s stated support for the pro-government militias, asserting that the latter "aim to destroy Sunni power bases" in Iraq.
"Soleimani has admitted that the Hashd al-Shaabi was an Iranian creation," al-Rifai asserted. "The lives of 3,000 civilians in Fallujah hang in the balance."
The Hashd al-Shaabi has previously been accused of committing grave human rights abuses while retaking Sunni-Muslim territories, while Sunni politicians have voiced fear that the presence of Shia militias in Fallujah could spark sectarian violence.
The Iraqi army operation to retake Fallujah began on May 23. Since then, civilians trapped in the city have faced a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis.
Located along the Euphrates River some 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) west of capital Baghdad, Fallujah -- which fell to Daesh in early 2014 -- is believed to be home to some 90,000 residents.
*Anadolu Agency correspondent Ahmet Sait Akcay contributed to this report from Ankara