Clerics condemn spiralling violence in Iraq

A leading Sunni cleric called for religious and ethnic groups to take a stand against violence as Iraq endured a third consecutive day of sectarian killings—the worst, a suicide car bombing at a Shi’ite mosque that killed at least 12 worshippers.

Friday’s bombing in Tuz Khormato, where a young Saudi man was later arrested wearing a bomb belt on his way to a second mosque, was the latest suicide attack following al-Qaeda in Iraq’s declaration of all-out war on Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim majority.

Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s terror group said it is taking revenge for a joint Iraqi-United States offensive against its stronghold in Tal Afar, a city near the Syrian border.

With more than 20 people killed on Friday, the death toll over the past three days surpassed 200, with more than 600 wounded.

Sheik Mahmud al-Sumaidaei, a leading Sunni cleric whose group is linked to the country’s insurgency, criticised militants for targeting civilians. He called for Iraq’s religious and ethnic groups to take a stand against further bloodshed.

“I call for a meeting ... of all the country’s religious and political leaders to take a stand against the bloodshed,” al-Sumaidaei said during his sermon at Baghdad’s Um al Qura Sunni mosque.

“We don’t need others to come across the border and kill us in the name of defending us,” he declared, a reference to foreign fighters who have joined the insurgency under the banner of al-Qaeda.
“We reject the killing of any Iraqi.”

In Tuz Khormato, 209km north of Baghdad, authorities said the attacker detonated his explosives-packed car as worshippers flowed out of the Hussainiyat al-Rasoul al-Azam mosque, a Shi’ite Turkmen place of worship.

Police said 12 people were killed and 23 wounded in the bombing, which also destroyed 10 shops and eight cars.

“We were stepping out of the mosque and suddenly a big blast shook the ground,” said Mustafa Ali, a 63-year-old ethnic Turkmen who escaped injury.

“I saw many people scattered on the ground, drenched in their own blood. I wanted to ask the bomber, ‘Why did you attack those innocents who had prayed?’” he said.

Police Captain Mohammed Ahmed said his men exchanged gunfire with another bomber before capturing him as he fled toward a second mosque. The man, who appeared to be in his early 20s, said he was from Saudi Arabia.

Early start

Friday’s bloodshed began early, when gunmen opened fire on day labourers in an east Baghdad Shi’ite district. Three workers died and a dozen were wounded in the drive-by attack.

In Haswa, 48km south of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded near an Iraqi police patrol, killing three officers and wounding four, said police Captain Muthana Khalid.

Gunmen also stormed the house of the mayor in nearby Iskandariyah, killing him and four bodyguards.

Sheik Fadil al-Lami, the Shi’ite cleric at Baghdad’s Imam Ali mosque, was gunned down as he waited to gas up his car, said police Colonel Shakir Wadi. Authorities also found the bodies of three people in the same Shi’ite district, including one Iraqi soldier.

American forces raiding insurgent strongholds in the Euphrates River valley, north-west of Baghdad, called in air strikes on militant positions in a stepped-up effort to retake cities and towns in Anbar province, which includes the fertile region along the Euphrates as it flows south-east through the country from Syria.

A US marine was killed in the insurgent bastion of Ramadi, the provincial capital, the military said. At least 1 898 members of the US military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

In the Euphrates region, US jets destroyed an al-Qaeda complex in Haditha before dawn on Friday. The night before, warplanes struck an abandoned school in Karabilah, killing nine al-Qaeda militants.

Clerics lash out

As Shi’ite and Sunni clerics condemned the rash of attacks, they also lashed out at the US-backed Iraqi government and American forces, holding them responsible for the recent violence because they have been unable to improve security in the country two-and-a-half years after the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

At the United Nations, Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs Hoshyar Zebari said he believes Iraq’s government is capable of containing the violence.

“There is no complete immunity against terrorist attacks or suicide bombers or people who are ready to blow up ... car bombs or themselves and downtown markets or schools or to kill children,” he said.

More than 300 followers of the powerful Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr travelled from Baghdad’s Sadr City to the Kazimiyah neighbourhood, where a suicide bombing on Wednesday marked the start of the latest bloodshed, killing 160 people as day labourers assembled to find jobs.

The Iraqi government is “responsible for the security deterioration, and [we say to them] if they cannot protect Iraqis, then let Iraqis protect themselves,” said Hazem al-Araji, a senior al-Sadr aide.

Sheik Abdul-Zahraa al-Suwaidi, also a Shi’ite, said the violence has tarnished the image of Islam and Muslims, but he blamed the continued presence of 140 000 US troops for fuelling sectarian tension.

“You have to know that Iraq will gain its security if the occupation troops leave this country,” al-Suwaidi told worshippers in Baghdad’s Risafaa district.—Sapa-AP

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