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Iraqi Sunni cleric calls on Anbar protesters to stand firm - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Sunni Muslims chant "Allahu Akbar", meaning "God is great", during an anti-government demonstration in Falluja, 50 km (31 miles) west of Baghdad April 26, 2013.  (REUTERS/Mohanned Faisal)

Sunni Muslims chant “Allahu Akbar”, meaning “God is great”, during an anti-government demonstration in Falluja, 50 km (31 miles) west of Baghdad April 26, 2013. (REUTERS/Mohanned Faisal)

Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Leading Iraqi Sunni cleric, Abdul Malik Al-Saadi, has accused some parties of putting pressure on the demonstrators to return to their homes before prospective negotiations with the government begins.

In a public statement, Saadi said: “Some governors and directors of religious endowments, especially in Al-Anbar—using my initiative to form a committee for dialogue with the government as an excuse—are putting pressure on the preachers and protesters to end the protests and call off the ‘Unity Friday’, ordering them to return to their mosques.”

Saadi added, “My initiative does not promise to gain rights; protests and the ‘Unity Friday’ will only end on the condition that protestors gain their rights, without which no negotiations will be held [with the government].”

He warned, “This will aggravate rather than improve the situation, arousing public animosity, especially when accompanied with threats of punishment and transferal of preachers. This had happened, and so I warn against the use of force and authority against preachers and protesters.”

Sheikh Ghassan Ithawi, a member of the popular coordination committee for the demonstrations in Al-Anbar province, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “the idea of [holding] a dialogue [with the government] still exists; and we are still awaiting what the next few hours might bring as far as naming the members of the negotiation team is concerned.”

However, the tribal conference in Al-Anbar concluded earlier this week by calling on ministers and MPs from the Iraqiya bloc, particularly Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Al-Mutlaq, to resign from the government and to withdraw from the political process. This is something which has been considered as an attempt to further escalate the situation.

For his part, Ithawi emphasized that “[the outcome of the conference] does not contradict the call for dialogue. Although nothing has materialized on the ground, we still believe that dialogue, along with peaceful protests, is the way forward.”

“We rely on Sheikh Al-Saadi’s initiative; and the committees, along with the Sheikh’s office, are working to select the negotiation team,” he added.

The tribal chiefs in Al-Anbar province had previously announced their rejection of the new ‘awakening’ movements, in reference to the public committees formed by a number of tribal chiefs and the government.

In a statement on the issue, Anbar tribal leader Sheikh Ali Hatem Sulaiman, said: “The participants have agreed that Pride and Dignity Square should be the symbol of our pride; we all have to support the protests without any compromises.”

He stressed “Our tribes, which ensured security, will not allow anyone to meddle with the protests. Moreover, the tribes reject all militias and what is known as the new [pro-government] awakening movements.”

“The participants reject the use of the armed forces, federal police and special forces to carry out a massacre,” he added.

Sulaiman also called on the Anbar governor to withdraw his forces or resign, denying that the protesters had conducted “any secret or public negotiations with the federal government.” He also confirmed that the “leaks about [negotiations] were mere rumors spread by people whose purposes are well known.”

Fares Ibrahim, one of the leaders of the Awakening movement, informed Asharq Al-Awsat: “The reason which compelled the participants to reject the so-called ‘new awakening movements’ is that many young people, deceived by the protesters, started to join them [awakenings]. This is something which has become worrying.”

Referring to Ali Hatem and Ahmed Abu-Risha, he said, “Those have become bankrupt after failing to achieve what they wanted through demonstrations, with nothing left for them now other than conferences and bombastic speeches.”

Both the Iraqi Shi’ite Waqf Council and the Al-Askari Mosque’s administration in Samarra (40 km south of Tikrit) rejected Saadi’s call to hold a reconciliatory conference and negotiations in the Shi’ite holy mosque.

Sheikh Sami Al-Massoudi, deputy chairman of the Shi’ite Waqf Council and the general supervisor of Al-Askari Mosque, said: “The holy shrines and Al-Askari Mosque are places of worship not for negotiations and political meetings.”