Iraqis Warn US to Stay Out of Holy Sites

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Naseer Al-Nahr, Arab News

Published — Saturday 24 April 2004

Last Update 24 April 2004 3:00 am

BAGHDAD, 24 April 2004 — Shiite and Sunni leaders warned US forces against raiding religious sites and towns as a Bulgarian soldier was killed in an ambush in south Iraq.

Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr threatened the US-led coalition with suicide attacks if it launched raids on Iraq’s holy cities. Sadr made the threat in a Friday prayer sermon at about the same time as his Mehdi Army militia attacked a Bulgarian troop convoy in Karbala and sparked a clash that left 10 people wounded, officials said.

The Bulgarian Defense Ministry said one of its soldiers died after being wounded in the ambush.

“We will shed blood to save our holy city,” Sadr, who is based in Najaf, said in Kufa. He said many men and women had sought his blessings for “martyrdom operations” against the Americans.

“I keep telling them to wait. But if there was an assault on our cities or on our religious authorities, we will be time bombs and will not stop before destroying enemy forces.”

Meanwhile, a prominent Sunni leader in Baghdad, Sheikh Ahmad Abdel Ghafur Samarrai, warned the occupation could spark a national uprising if US forces resume their offensive on the flashpoint city of Fallujah. Guns were quiet in Fallujah, but a US officer said Marines were ready to resume an offensive against the fighters in the city of 300,000.

In an apparent bid to mollify Sunni sentiments, Iraq’s US administrator Paul Bremer said a policy to root out members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party had been unjustly applied.

He announced changes to its implementation that he said would allow thousands of teachers sacked for holding party cards to return to work and thousands more to receive pensions.

“The de-Baathification policy was and is sound,” he said in a speech on US-funded Iraqiya television. “It does not need to be changed... but it has been poorly implemented.” He said Iraqi complaints that the de-Baathification policy had been applied unevenly and unjustly were “legitimate”. An appeals process for those sacked would be speeded up.

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