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Staff Sgt. Ciara Wymbs, U.S. Air Force, Associated Press
In this Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014 photo released by the U.S. Air Force, a B-1B Lancer disengages from a KC-135 Stratotanker after refueling during U.S.-led airstrikes on Islamic State group targets in Syria. Nearly 2 out of 3 Americans back U.S. airstrikes to combat Islamic extremists and half also think there's a high risk of a future terrorist attack on American soil. Americans surveyed for an Associated Press-GfK poll are split on whether they approve of the way President Barack Obama is generally handling the threat from the Islamic State group and other terrorists. Yet despite more than a decade of costly war, about a third favor going even beyond airstrikes and putting U.S. military boots on the ground in Iraq or Syria — something Obama says he has no plans to do.

BAGHDAD — Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric called upon the country's prime minister Friday 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.

There must be "careful selection with regard to sectarianism or ethnicity or national building within the national guard, so that it does not generate feelings among the enrollees that they are defending certain sects," al-Sistani said.

Militants with Islamic State group have taken over parts of western and northern Iraq this year, causing the Iraqi military to fracture while tensions intensified between Muslim sects. Al-Abadi, who was officially named prime minister on Sept. 8, has embarked on a restructuring of the military and vowed to create a national guard that will defend the country and protect civilians without promoting sectarianism.

A Cabinet was also selected on Sept. 8, with the exception of the key posts of the defense and interior ministers, with lawmakers failing to agree on who should be nominated. Al-Sistani called upon al-Abadi to select candidates for these critical roles following the Islamic Eid al-Adha holiday next week.