Basra, Asharq Al-Awsat—An official of the Sunni Waqf (Endowment) movement in southern Iraq informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the continued targeting of the Sunni community in Basra has forced them to close their mosques, likening recent events to the wave of sectarian violence that hit Iraq between 2005 and 2008 and which resulted in the displacement of thousands of Sunni families.
Abdelkarim Al-Khazraji, leader of the Sunni Waqf movement in the southern region said the closure of mosques in Basra would continue until sufficient protection was provided for worshipers. He informed Asharq Al-Awsat that 15 people have been killed in sectarian attacks on Sunnis in Basra over the past 10 days.
Meanwhile, a number of youth from popular and cultural movements in Basra have called for evening demonstrations condemning the sectarian murders and demanding that authorities take the necessary measures to protect the people of the city from attack.
Khazraji told Asharq Al-Awsat, “The last 10 days have seen 15 Sunnis killed in Basra, including two preachers and two [Waqf] bureau staff,” adding, “The bureau is going ahead with its decision to stop prayers in its mosques until the ability of the security forces to protect worshipers is proven.”
He added that “this decision includes Friday prayers, but the bureau will consider on Thursday the possibility of holding Friday prayers.”
Khazraji said: “Evidence on the ground proves that Dhi Qar Province has witnessed more bombings than Basra, therefore, the bureau also decided to close the Imam Ali mosque in Al-Fadhliyah, south of Al-Nasiriyah in Dhi Qar Province, after worshipers and staff received threats warnings them against performing prayers in the mosque.”
He added that “the decision may include Faleh Basha Al-Saadoun mosque (the largest mosque in Al-Nasiriyah) if the displacements campaign and the targeting of worshipers continues.”
Khazraji also told Asharq Al-Awsat, “The attacks bring back memories of what used to take place in Basra during the period of sectarian conflict between 2005 and 2008, which led to the killing and displacement of thousands of Sunnis.”
Meanwhile, a demonstration was held in Basra by dozens of civilian and youth movement activists in protest against the targeting, displacement, and murder of Sunnis in the province. The demonstrators called on Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki to protect Iraqis whatever their religious or sectarian background.
Isam Al-Rani’i, a member of the I’tisam (Sit-in) youth movement, said: “The demonstration is clear evidence of out rejection of the targeting of Sunnis in Basra, which is the same as the targeting of Shi’ites, Christians or members of any other sect.”