In a statement on Saturday, Ali Gumaa, the mufti of Egypt and the country's highest authority on Islamic law, condemned the "continuing aggression by US-led forces on the Imam Ali shrine and Islamic holy places" in Iraq.

"After the attack on the shrines of the Prophet's noble companions, after the humiliations and the terrorizing and killing of civilians, the world cannot expect… that a volcano of anger and indignation will not explode," Gumaa said.

Gumaa is second in the Islamic hierarchy only to the shaikh of al-Azhar, Cairo's ancient university and institute of religious learning.

Unjustified

Gumaa said since occupation forces claimed to have saved Iraq from dictatorship, "the Dar al-Ifta cannot accept any justification… that enables them to play this ugly role, rejected by the world's reasonable people and lovers of peace".

"The Dar al-Ifta wonders why the world is seeking the reasons for terrorism, hatred of others and the clash of civilizations," he said.

Gumaa, however, appealed for restraint "so that events do not slip out of control and the situation does not deteriorate into an unjustified sea of blood, since regret would then be futile".