Top Shiite Cleric In Iraq Urging Unity - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

2/24/06-Baghdad

Top Shiite Cleric In Iraq Urging Unity

A top Shiite political figure has joined the top Shiite cleric in Iraq in urging unity and self-restraint among citizens, an effort to calm sectarian hostilities before they degenerate into a full-blown civil war.

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Friday called the bombing of the Al-Askariya "Golden Mosque" in Samarra a strike against all Iraqis.

The attack on Wednesday triggered Shiite reprisals across Iraq, including the killings of Sunni Arabs, attacks on their mosques and institutions, and mass protests.

Al-Hakim blamed the Golden Mosque bombing not on Iraqi Sunnis, but "takfiris," or extremists, who don't represent Islam, and he cited people such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq.

And, he said, Iraqis must unite to fight them.

Al-Hakim's remarks, issued in a statement read on Iraqi TV, echoed those by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who asked Shiite "believers to peacefully express their sorrow and peacefully denounce and condemn this act."

Al-Sistani exhorted people not to resort to "acts that will benefit those who are trying to agitate sectarian violence. Our enemies who have entered Iraq have been trying to do this for a long time."

His comments sparked indirect and unusually strong criticism from a group of Sunni clerics angry over the revenge attacks.

"We point the finger of blame at certain Shiite religious authorities calling for demonstrations, while they know Iraq cannot control the streets," said Sheik Abdul Salam al-Qubaisi.

Since the Golden Mosque attack, at least 132 people have been killed; 87 bodies were found in Baghdad alone.

Violence prompted beefed-up security and a rare daytime curfew Friday in Baghdad; Salaheddin province, home of the Golden Mosque; and neighboring Diyala province, where violence raged.

Under the curfew, which coincided with noon prayers and ended at 4 p.m. (8 a.m. ET), vehicles were barred, but not people.

A nationwide overnight curfew -- from 8 p.m. (noon ET) to 6 a.m. (10 p.m. ET) -- continues, however, with strict enforcement in Baghdad and Salaheddin, the Interior Ministry said. Authorities in the other 16 provinces are permitted to enforce the curfew at their discretion, the ministry added.

The Shiite-Sunni violence has taken a toll on the political front. The top Sunni political coalition pulled out of talks for a national unity government with Kurds and Shiites.

While an eerie quiet pervaded much of Baghdad during the curfew, people in Baghdad's Sadr City, a largely Shiite area, ignored the strictures and staged protests.

In Basra, the overwhelmingly Shiite city in the south, thousands of people responded to a call by religious leaders for joint Shiite-Sunni prayer services Friday.

"We Sunnis and Shiites Muslims have been living together in Iraq for thousands of years. We condemn such criminal acts through which they want to divide Iraqis," said Hakim Al-Mayahi, a member of Basra's provincial council.

A similar scene played out in Kut, also in the south, where tens of thousands of Sunnis and Shias joined together Thursday, carrying the Iraqi flag and finding a common foe -- they chanted "No to America!"

In contrast, thousands of enraged Shia Muslims gathered at the bombed-out Al-Askariya Mosque in Samarra and called for revenge on Thursday. Among those taking part in the protests were followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia has been reported going door-to-door in Sunni areas asking for heads of households.

Other developments

  • On Friday coalition forces and Iraqi police conducted a raid in the capital, killing Abu Asma, whom they described as the al Qaeda military emir of northern Baghdad. The man, an explosives expert, had suicide vests and was responsible for "many deaths and injuries" of security forces, the military said in a written statement.

     

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