View Full Version : Shiite cleric blames rivalries for bloodshed

09-08-07, 07:37 AM
Shiite cleric blames rivalries for bloodshed
A leading sheik appears to blame an opposing faction for a rise in militia violence. Meanwhile, the U.S. reports seven troops killed.
By Sam Enriquez
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

September 8, 2007

BAGHDAD — -- The deaths of seven U.S. troops were confirmed Friday, and a leading Shiite Muslim cleric launched a new round of finger-pointing over who was to blame for recent violence among rival Shiite factions in Iraq. Military officials said four Marines died Thursday during combat in the western province of Anbar, which President Bush visited Monday and singled out as the region where the U.S. troop buildup this year had slowed the violence.

The other three troop deaths also occurred Thursday, in Nineveh province, when military vehicles struck explosives, U.S. officials said.

The names of the dead were withheld pending notification of their families. The report brings the number of U.S. military deaths to 3,760 since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, according to icasualties.org, which tracks troop deaths.

Far more Iraqi civilians and security forces have died in the warfare, and an influential Shiite cleric and member of Iraq's parliament on Friday blamed Shiite rivalries for some of the latest bloodshed that has made political stability here next to impossible.

"The truth is that there is a flaw among us that has sparked the crisis, that has caused the disaster," Sheik Jalaluddin Saghir said during a sermon. "And, yes, the Sunni extremists are gloating over it."

Though most of the violence in Iraq over the years has taken place between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, the number of killings between two major Shiite militias has grown in the last months.

The bloodshed has hampered efforts to achieve political progress sought by the U.S. during the troop buildup that began in February. Congressional hearings on the results of the military "surge" are to begin Monday.

Last month, 52 people died and 300 were injured during gunfights between Shiite militias in the holy city of Karbala, where a million Shiites had gone on an annual pilgrimage. The violence broke out Aug. 28 between Mahdi Army members loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr and the Badr Organization, the armed wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

The Sadr and Badr groups have battled for control of Iraq's oil-rich south through increasingly bloody rounds of killings and reprisals as British troops have been departing.

The Badr group holds the edge in political and military power. But Sadr militia members have infiltrated police and Iraqi army units and also control a growing number of Baghdad neighborhoods outside their base in the capital's Sadr City district.

Saghir told worshipers that the Iraqi government must share the blame for the Karbala killings for not having anticipated the violence. Prime Minister Nouri Maliki sent 15,000 troops after the fighting started and has since ordered an investigation.

"What happened in Karbala was premeditated and preplanned," said Saghir, a member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

Saghir did not name the Sadr militia, but clearly targeted his remarks at the rival Shiite group.

When asked to clarify during a telephone interview, he said, "I think my words were very clear about what side I was talking about."

A spokesman for Sadr said Saghir's accusations "have nothing to do with the Sadr movement and we don't have any reaction to them."

U.S. and Iraqi officials say Sadr has lost control of rogue elements within his organization, an example of the fracturing among militant groups that has made political negotiations difficult.

Iraq analyst Joost Hiltermann said Saghir was the first important figure from the leading Shiite political party to say publicly what many have been saying privately.

"Saghir is cutting through all the diplomatic nice-talk that's used to avoid rocking the Shiite boat," said Hiltermann, of the International Crisis Group. "Obviously, he is speaking about the Sadrists, but at the same time he is leaving a way out for himself by referring only to troublemakers, something that even Sadr could say about loose elements within his movement."

Also Friday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told reporters that he objected to the death sentence imposed on Sultan Hashim Ahmad Jabburi Tai, a former military commander under Saddam Hussein who was convicted in June along with Ali Hassan Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" for his role in the poison-gas killing of tens of thousands of Kurds in 1988. The court's death sentence, Talabani noted, must be approved by the Iraqi Presidential Council, made up of him and his two vice presidents.

Tai carried out his orders under the threat of death by Hussein, Talabani said. "I had urged him many times to work against the Saddam government, so I will not vote for his execution."


Times staff writers Ned Parker, Saif Rasheed and Raheem Salman in Baghdad contributed to this report.