KUFA, Iraq, (Reuters) – A day after seeing his Baghdad power base devastated by explosions, radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on Iraq’s most prominent Sunni religious leader to tell his followers to stop killing Shi’ites.
Sadr, who on Thursday blamed Sunni Islamist al Qaeda militants and Saddam Hussein loyalists for the blasts which killed 202 people, made the call during a Friday sermon in Kufa, just outside the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad.
It was directed at Harith al-Dari, the head of Iraq’s influential Muslim Clerics Association, an umbrella group for Sunni religious leaders, who is wanted by Iraqi authorities on suspicion of links to terrorism charges. Dari, who lives abroad, denies the accusations.
Sadr said Dari must issue religious rulings, or fatwas, to fellow minority Sunnis, who form the backbone of a three-year-old insurgency, forbidding the killing of Shi’ites or membership of al Qaeda. “He has to release a fatwa prohibiting the killing of Shi’ites so as to preserve Muslim blood and must prohibit membership of al Qaeda or any other organisation that has made (Shi’ites) their enemies,” he told chanting supporters. Dari should also order Sunnis to support the rebuilding of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, whose destruction in February, blamed on al Qaeda, sparked a vicious cycle of sectarian revenge killings that shows no signs of abating. “If Harith al-Dari issues these fatwas I will oppose his arrest warrant,” Sadr said.
The arrest warrant issued last week enraged Sunnis, who accuse Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of turning a blind eye to militias tied to parties within his own government, who have been blamed for some of the worst sectarian violence. Dari and his association, who say the Sunni insurgency against U.S. forces is legitimate, have issued statements in the past condemning attacks on Shi’ite civilians but have never banned membership of insurgent groups.
Dari told Reuters in Amman this week that the government had trumped up the charges to undermine his role in defending a community which he said faced the brunt of the killings.