BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's top Shiite cleric on Friday called on the government in Baghdad to do more to protect the families of Iraqi forces fighting the Islamic State group, saying they are an "easy prey" for extremists bent on revenge attacks.
In his weekly sermon, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani also said authorities should implement tough policies to catch and punish those who attack innocent civilians.
"It is not logical or acceptable that the fighters, soldiers or volunteers who are sacrificing themselves for the sake of Iraq leave their loved ones and families under the protection of the security forces, and then those people become easy prey for Daesh," said al-Sistani's spokesman Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
"The government is strongly urged to implement a firm policy and strictly punish those elements proved to be involved in such criminal activities," the spokesman added, quoting al-Sistani.
The reclusive cleric's appeal comes amid mounting pressure on the government to catch and prosecute those responsible for last week's massive bombing in eastern Diyala province that killed 115 people as the Islamic holy month of Ramadan was coming to an end. Many women and children were among the victims in the predominantly Shiite district of Khan Bani Saad.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for that attack. The Sunni militant group regularly targets Shiite civilians, military checkpoints and government installations as it seeks to destabilize the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report from Amman, Jordan.