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Shiite leaders in Iraq turn against the U.S.
Heraldnet.comLos Angeles Times
By Borzou Daragah Los Angeles Times
April 1, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Shiite Muslim religious leaders ratcheted up their rhetoric against the United States during Friday prayers, amid ongoing sectarian violence and faltering talks over the creation of a new Iraqi government.

The occasionally vitriolic anti-American sermons, often delivered by clerics close to the young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, were the latest sign of souring relations between U.S. political and military leaders and the country's majority sect, which initially welcomed the U.S. effort to topple the Sunni-led regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Shiite political parties, many of them with religious and family ties to powerful clerical clans in shrine cities in Iran as well as Iraq, have been angered by U.S. efforts to broker a compromise between Iraq's squabbling political blocs.

Kurds, Sunni Arabs and a secular coalition led by Ayad Allawi oppose the Shiite nomination of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari for a full term in office. This week, a Shiite politician leaked word that President Bush had sent a message through U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad that he, too, opposed al-Jaafari's candidacy, a move that angered Shiite leaders.

One leading Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Muhammad Yacoubi, called on Washington to remove Khalilzad, who is perceived by some Shiites as biased in favor of Kurds, Sunni Arabs and secular Iraqis.

Khalilzad, speaking to a group of Iraqi women Friday inside the tightly secured Green Zone, took his own swipe at Iraqi politicians. "Iraq is bleeding while they are moving at a very slow pace," he said, according to a transcript provided by the U.S. Embassy.

Shiite religious leaders throughout the country also condemned a March 26 U.S.-Iraqi raid on a Shiite house of worship in northern Baghdad that left at least 16 dead.

"This grisly crime was committed by the occupier and its mercenaries," prayer leader Mohammad Tabatabai told worshippers in the impoverished Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City. "America is taking on the role of Pharaoh to the world. America came to kill the believers."

Other Shiite leaders called on the Iraqi government to stop sectarian attacks on Shiite villagers in the countryside. The International Organization for Migration, a multinational group that helps refugees, estimates that at least 4,000 families throughout the country have been displaced by sectarian violence or fear.

In Basra, Sheikh Abdul Karim Ghizzi demanded that the government help Shiite victims. "We condemn and denounce the disastrous security situation in the country," he told worshippers.

Iraq's Sunni Arabs, once viewed as the primary perpetrators of ethnic violence, have increasingly become victims as shadowy groups with possible ties to official security organs have launched a campaign of abduction and murder. Authorities discovered at least five corpses Friday, some with handcuffs and signs of torture in what has become the signature of the death squads operating in religiously mixed provinces of central Iraq.

Original Text