Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraq’s Grand Mufti Rafi Al-Rifa’i, the highest Sunni authority in the country, has portrayed what is happening in Iraq as a “popular revolution,” saying the central government is exaggerating the presence and threat of the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) organization.
In exclusive comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Sheikh Rafi Al-Rafa’i said: “The tribal revolutionaries are moving to completely change the political process in Iraq,” adding that “15 armed factions are taking part in the revolution against the government, following the injustice Iraq’s Sunnis have been subjected to. This is a popular revolution that the Iraqi people are participating in alongside these armed groups.
“Our sole objective is to put an end to the injustice of Maliki and his followers who have destroyed the country, stolen its wealth, killed its people and destroyed its holy shrines,” he said in reference to Iraq’s embattled Shi’ite prime minister, Nuri Al-Maliki.
“The revolution will not end with Maliki’s ouster, we are moving to change the entire political process.
“The revolution is moving towards Baghdad and will not stop.”
Rifa’i is currently in Erbil. He has been a staunch critic of the Shi’ite prime minister, accusing him of “genocide” against Iraq’s Sunnis earlier this year.
“We are at the gates of Baghdad, and Anbar is completely under our control . . . We are also in control of Baquba and the majority of areas in Salah Al-Din governorate, including Baiji,” Rifa’i told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The Iraqi cleric called on the people of southern Iraq to “rise up against Maliki,” but denied being a representative of the anti-government rebels.
“I am merely consulting with the fighters. I have not sat down with representatives of the Americans or any European or foreign state. However, the commanders on the ground could be in contact with the international community to explain the revolution to the world,” he said.
The Grand Mufti also denied that ISIS was targeting shrines in Mosul. He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Incidents such as this should not happen. We did not come to destroy statues or to establish a special model [for rule]. We want people to live in safety and security. We are not responsible for what ISIS is doing, they are not in control of the entire arena, and what they are doing is not worthy of a state. We came to change a regime, not statues.”