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Shi’ite leader bids to defuse tension

Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim

By Bassem Mroue, Baghdad
IRAQ’S most influential Shi’ite political leader called yesterday for Sunni-Shi’ite unity as religious figures sought to calm passions and pull the nation from the brink of civil war.

This follows the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine two days’ ago and a wave of deadly reprisal attacks.

The government stepped-up security measures, including a ban on entering or leaving Baghdad and deployment of armed forces in tense areas.

An extraordinary daytime curfew in Baghdad and three nearby provinces appeared to have blunted the wave of attacks on Sunni mosques that followed Wednesday’s bombing, which destroyed the golden dome of the Shi’ite Askariya shrine in Samarra.

Still, Iraqis feared the violence that killed about 130 people after the Samarra attack had pushed the country closer to sectarian civil war than at any time since the US-led invasion nearly three years’ ago.

Several joint Sunni-Shi’ite prayer services were announced for yesterday, including one at the Askariya shrine. But security forces turned away about 700 people, virtually all of them Sunnis, who showed up.

In a statement read on national television, Shi’ite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said those behind the bombing in Samarra "do not represent the Sunnis in Iraq."

Mr Al-Hakim instead blamed Saddam Hussein loyalists and followers of al-Qaida in Iraq boss Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Dhafer al-Ani, spokesman for the biggest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament, praised Mr al-Hakim’s statement, calling it "a step on the road of healing the wounds."

But he said his Iraqi Accordance Front was still waiting for an apology from the government for failing to protect Sunni mosques from reprisal attacks, as well as a commitment to repair the damage and bring those responsible to justice.

The Sunni bloc suspended talks on Thursday with the main Shi’ite alliance about forming a new government until its demands are met.

US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad acknowledged the danger facing Iraq - and the US strategy for disengaging from this country. He said he was confident Sunni politicians would return to the negotiating table, saying: "Iraqis do not have a better alternative than to form a government of national unity."

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite, said he had deployed Iraqi armed forces in areas of friction and banned all vehicles from entering or leaving the capital other than police cars, ambulances and government trucks.

He also said measures had been taken to protect holy sites, ban the carrying of unauthorised weapons in, and to rebuild the Shi’ite shrine in Samarra.

 

Shi’ite leader bids to defuse tension

Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim

By Bassem Mroue, Baghdad
IRAQ’S most influential Shi’ite political leader called yesterday for Sunni-Shi’ite unity as religious figures sought to calm passions and pull the nation from the brink of civil war.

This follows the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine two days’ ago and a wave of deadly reprisal attacks.

The government stepped-up security measures, including a ban on entering or leaving Baghdad and deployment of armed forces in tense areas.

An extraordinary daytime curfew in Baghdad and three nearby provinces appeared to have blunted the wave of attacks on Sunni mosques that followed Wednesday’s bombing, which destroyed the golden dome of the Shi’ite Askariya shrine in Samarra.

Still, Iraqis feared the violence that killed about 130 people after the Samarra attack had pushed the country closer to sectarian civil war than at any time since the US-led invasion nearly three years’ ago.

Several joint Sunni-Shi’ite prayer services were announced for yesterday, including one at the Askariya shrine. But security forces turned away about 700 people, virtually all of them Sunnis, who showed up.

In a statement read on national television, Shi’ite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said those behind the bombing in Samarra "do not represent the Sunnis in Iraq."

Mr Al-Hakim instead blamed Saddam Hussein loyalists and followers of al-Qaida in Iraq boss Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Dhafer al-Ani, spokesman for the biggest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament, praised Mr al-Hakim’s statement, calling it "a step on the road of healing the wounds."

But he said his Iraqi Accordance Front was still waiting for an apology from the government for failing to protect Sunni mosques from reprisal attacks, as well as a commitment to repair the damage and bring those responsible to justice.

The Sunni bloc suspended talks on Thursday with the main Shi’ite alliance about forming a new government until its demands are met.

US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad acknowledged the danger facing Iraq - and the US strategy for disengaging from this country. He said he was confident Sunni politicians would return to the negotiating table, saying: "Iraqis do not have a better alternative than to form a government of national unity."

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite, said he had deployed Iraqi armed forces in areas of friction and banned all vehicles from entering or leaving the capital other than police cars, ambulances and government trucks.

He also said measures had been taken to protect holy sites, ban the carrying of unauthorised weapons in, and to rebuild the Shi’ite shrine in Samarra.

 

Shi’ite leader bids to defuse tension

Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim

By Bassem Mroue, Baghdad
IRAQ’S most influential Shi’ite political leader called yesterday for Sunni-Shi’ite unity as religious figures sought to calm passions and pull the nation from the brink of civil war.

This follows the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine two days’ ago and a wave of deadly reprisal attacks.

The government stepped-up security measures, including a ban on entering or leaving Baghdad and deployment of armed forces in tense areas.

An extraordinary daytime curfew in Baghdad and three nearby provinces appeared to have blunted the wave of attacks on Sunni mosques that followed Wednesday’s bombing, which destroyed the golden dome of the Shi’ite Askariya shrine in Samarra.

Still, Iraqis feared the violence that killed about 130 people after the Samarra attack had pushed the country closer to sectarian civil war than at any time since the US-led invasion nearly three years’ ago.

Several joint Sunni-Shi’ite prayer services were announced for yesterday, including one at the Askariya shrine. But security forces turned away about 700 people, virtually all of them Sunnis, who showed up.

In a statement read on national television, Shi’ite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said those behind the bombing in Samarra "do not represent the Sunnis in Iraq."

Mr Al-Hakim instead blamed Saddam Hussein loyalists and followers of al-Qaida in Iraq boss Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Dhafer al-Ani, spokesman for the biggest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament, praised Mr al-Hakim’s statement, calling it "a step on the road of healing the wounds."

But he said his Iraqi Accordance Front was still waiting for an apology from the government for failing to protect Sunni mosques from reprisal attacks, as well as a commitment to repair the damage and bring those responsible to justice.

The Sunni bloc suspended talks on Thursday with the main Shi’ite alliance about forming a new government until its demands are met.

US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad acknowledged the danger facing Iraq - and the US strategy for disengaging from this country. He said he was confident Sunni politicians would return to the negotiating table, saying: "Iraqis do not have a better alternative than to form a government of national unity."

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite, said he had deployed Iraqi armed forces in areas of friction and banned all vehicles from entering or leaving the capital other than police cars, ambulances and government trucks.

He also said measures had been taken to protect holy sites, ban the carrying of unauthorised weapons in, and to rebuild the Shi’ite shrine in Samarra.

 

Shi’ite leader bids to defuse tension

Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim

By Bassem Mroue, Baghdad
IRAQ’S most influential Shi’ite political leader called yesterday for Sunni-Shi’ite unity as religious figures sought to calm passions and pull the nation from the brink of civil war.

This follows the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine two days’ ago and a wave of deadly reprisal attacks.

The government stepped-up security measures, including a ban on entering or leaving Baghdad and deployment of armed forces in tense areas.

An extraordinary daytime curfew in Baghdad and three nearby provinces appeared to have blunted the wave of attacks on Sunni mosques that followed Wednesday’s bombing, which destroyed the golden dome of the Shi’ite Askariya shrine in Samarra.

Still, Iraqis feared the violence that killed about 130 people after the Samarra attack had pushed the country closer to sectarian civil war than at any time since the US-led invasion nearly three years’ ago.

Several joint Sunni-Shi’ite prayer services were announced for yesterday, including one at the Askariya shrine. But security forces turned away about 700 people, virtually all of them Sunnis, who showed up.

In a statement read on national television, Shi’ite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said those behind the bombing in Samarra "do not represent the Sunnis in Iraq."

Mr Al-Hakim instead blamed Saddam Hussein loyalists and followers of al-Qaida in Iraq boss Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Dhafer al-Ani, spokesman for the biggest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament, praised Mr al-Hakim’s statement, calling it "a step on the road of healing the wounds."

But he said his Iraqi Accordance Front was still waiting for an apology from the government for failing to protect Sunni mosques from reprisal attacks, as well as a commitment to repair the damage and bring those responsible to justice.

The Sunni bloc suspended talks on Thursday with the main Shi’ite alliance about forming a new government until its demands are met.

US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad acknowledged the danger facing Iraq - and the US strategy for disengaging from this country. He said he was confident Sunni politicians would return to the negotiating table, saying: "Iraqis do not have a better alternative than to form a government of national unity."

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite, said he had deployed Iraqi armed forces in areas of friction and banned all vehicles from entering or leaving the capital other than police cars, ambulances and government trucks.

He also said measures had been taken to protect holy sites, ban the carrying of unauthorised weapons in, and to rebuild the Shi’ite shrine in Samarra.