Sunday, September 02, 2007

Saudi clerics inciting violence, alleges PM

BAGHDAD: Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki on Friday tacitly criticised some clerics in Saudi Arabia whom he blamed for a share of responsibility for this week's clashes during a Shiite festival in Karbala. Maliki did not point the finger at the Saudi government but alluded to some hardline Wahhabist clerics in the kingdom.
He claimed their hostility contributed to clashes around the shrines of Imam Hussein and his half brother Imam Abbas in the central holy city of Karbala, which left up to 51 people dead.
"We don't need any proof or evidence because these establishments, with deep regret, issued fatwas (religious edicts) calling for the destruction of the shrines of Imam Hussein and Abbas," Maliki, a Shiite, said during a brief news conference.
The two shrines are among the holiest sites to Shiites worldwide.
"When I speak about foreign intervention in this matter, we speak about organisations, gangs of fanatics and ignorant clerics who have said in the past that Shiites are infidels, meaning they permit killing them," he said.
In December, a top Saudi Arabian Sunni cleric, Abdul-Rahman Al Barak, declared Shiites around the world to be infidels who should be considered worse than Jews or Christians.
Earlier that month about 30 prominent Saudi Wahhabi clerics called on Sunni Muslims around the Middle East to support their brethren in Iraq against Shiites and praised the anti-American insurgency.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia refused to receive Maliki during a tour that took him to several countries in the region.
Local officials, however, blamed the Mahdi Army militia of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr for fomenting the violence.
Residents venturing nervously into the streets for the first time since the fighting expressed dismay that the local security forces had not been able to restore order and had to rely on reinforcements sent from other provinces.
"Karbala's clashes showed that our security force, which is made up of locals, is incapable of protecting the city when there are criminals from the same city," said grocer Kadhim Mohammed, 50.
"The security forces that came from Baghdad and other provinces quickly imposed security and discipline because there is no link between them and the criminals," he said.
Zuheir Al Hindawy, a local journalist, said he was "astonished" that Maliki, a Shiite, had blamed Sunni extremists for the fighting.
"The reality on ground is totally different," said Hindawy.
"Why did the government not point out the guilty party after it announced it had stopped its activities for a certain period of time?"
Peaceful prayer
Iraqi troops backed by armoured vehicles guarded two key shrines in Karbala as a trickle of devotees attended Friday prayers three days after fierce fighting turned a pilgrimage into a bloodbath.
A ban on vehicles remained in place in the shrine city south of Baghdad, however, and the streets remained largely empty.
Only a few hundred people turned up for prayers at the Imam Hussein shrine which normally draws thousands every Friday.
Prayers were led by imam Abdel Mahdi Karbalae, a representative of revered Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, who used his weekly message to highlight police inadequacies during Tuesday's battles.
"Regretfully police failed to protect the shrine. They did not perform their duties well," Karbalae told the congregation. He also called for a "comprehensive investigation" into the events and compensation for the families of the victims.
"We have intelligence information that indicates there was an organised scheme to cause clashes and create chaos," Karbalae said, holding up a letter from "intelligence sources" but without elaborating.
"The security forces did not move rapidly to deal with these groups when they approached the shrine. So they were able to move quickly and start the clashes," the cleric charged.
"It was only after we phoned the prime minister and he ordered the army to take over security that order was restored."

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