BAGHDAD/ANKARA, 21 May 2005 — Sunni and Shiite religious leaders yesterday called for moderation amid escalating sectarian tensions in Iraq, encouraging peaceful protest and unity in the face of unremitting violence.
Following a spate of tit-for-tat sectarian killings, Sunni leaders said they would close mosques for three days and call on 1,000 clerics to meet today to protest the assassination of Sunnis.
“It is a peaceful protest against heinous crimes and it will be repeated if these attacks happen again,” Sheikh Ahmed Abdel Ghafur Al-Samarrai said in his Friday sermon. At the same time, leading Shiite cleric Abdel Aziz Al-Hakim called for Iraqi leaders to unite against the violence.
“We must preserve unity and fight against any attempts at discord that aim to divide Iraqis,” said Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of two dominant political parties in the United Iraqi Alliance bloc which heads the new government.
“I call on all Iraqis not to give in to this (violence). I call on all Sunni and Shiite clerics to resist this violence aimed at them,” he said. Sunnis have accused the Badr Organization, linked to Hakim’s party, for being responsible for some of the recent killing of Sunnis, including three imams.
In the holy city of Najaf, another Shiite leader also appealed for calm, reflecting sermons up and down the country in both Sunni and Shiite mosques.
The newly empowered Shiites want to rid the country of supporters of Saddam Hussein, while many Sunni Arabs, who were dominant under the former leader, fear they will be sidelined and discriminated against. “We call on all sides to resort to wisdom,” said Sheikh Sadr Addin Kubanji.
But in a sign that violence remains rampant, US forces backed by helicopter gunships fired several rockets at the Adhamiya Sunni neighborhood, setting a house ablaze, after a car bomb killed two Iraqi soldiers in the Shiite district of Kadhimiya across the Tigris River, an interior ministry official said. Insurgents followed up their bomb attack with mortar fire.
Iraq will send a delegation to Damascus soon to seek Syria’s help in stopping what Baghdad says is infiltration by insurgents from the Syrian side of the border, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari said yesterday.
Speaking on a visit to Turkey Jaafari also pledged to crack down on Kurdish rebels launching attacks on southeast Turkey from bases in northern Iraq.
“There are armed groups crossing from Syria,” Jaafari told a news conference in Ankara.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told the news conference Jaafari had pledged to work jointly with Ankara to fight Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels holed up on Iraqi soil. “We will never allow any group to harm a neighboring country in any way,” Jaafari said.