BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad met Saturday with the leader of the largest Shiite political party to discuss the bombing of a holy Shrine this week and the wave of reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques that have raised fears of civil war.
The leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, told Khalilzad that more than 80,000 Iraqis, “most of the Shiites,” have been killed by “terrorists” since the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime in April 2003, according to a statement by the Shiite group.
“As Iraqis, we should stand side by side to get rid of the evil acts of terrorists,” al-Hakim said according to the statement.
The meeting took place in the wake of Wednesday’s explosion that heavily damaged the Askariya shrine in the central city of Samarra. Following the attack, scores of Sunni mosques came under attack and more than 150 people have been killed in sectarian violence.
Shiite leaders accused the Sunni extremists, including al-Qaeda in Iraq and Saddam loyalists, for the Samarra attack.
The statement said Khalilzad expressed Washington’s deep sadness over the shrine bombing, saying that those behind it should be brought to justice.
On Wednesday, al-Hakim said that Khalilzad shares some of the responsibility for the shrine bombing because of his criticism of Shiite-led security forces, accused by Sunni Arabs of widespread human rights abuses.
Khalilzad told reporters at a press conference Monday that America would not continue to support institutions run by sectarian groups with links to armed militias.
The statement said Khalilzad told al-Hakim on Saturday that he was “misunderstood” and that he had no reservations about members of the Shiite bloc taking any government post.
The current Interior Minister Bayan Jabr is a member of al-Hakim’s party.