Iraqi holy cities red line warns Iran
TEHRAN: Iran and Shiite Muslim leaders warned the United States on Friday that the Iraqi holy cities of Najaf and Karbala were "red lines" not is crossed. "We are concerned at the intensification of the fighting in Iraq especially in Najaf and Karbala, and we condemn the killing of innocent Iraqis," said Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi.
"The responsibility for the insecurity in Iraq falls on the occupiers, and we want the occupying forces to leave Iraq as soon as possible and give authority back to the Iraqis," he added. Explosions and gunfire Friday as US forces sought to crush an insurgency by renegade Shiite cleric Moqtadar Sadr ahead of the June 30 return of sovereignty shook Najaf.
The heaviest fighting occurred in and around Najafs cemetery, considered sacred ground by Shiite Muslims who form the majority in Iraq and neighbouring Iran. There were also running clashes this week in Karabala in which tens of Sadr militiamen were killed, although the cleric has vowed to continue his fight. Almost 90 percent of Iranians are Shiites, while Najaf and Karabala are home to some of the sects most sacred sites.
Iran vehemently opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, despite having fought an eight-year war until 1988 with its neighbour in which more than one million dead were killed on both sides. In Beirut, a Shiite Muslim leader had a stern warning for the Americans. "The holy cities of Najaf and Karbala have been the object for several days of a barbaric and savage attack by the American occupation forces.
Iran: TV Commentary Says "Occupiers" Crossed "Red Line" in Iraq
May 15, 2004
BBC Monitoring Middle East
The unrest and instability in Iraq has entered a new phase now that military occupiers have entered the holy city of Najaf and caused the escalation of clashes in Karbala.
It is 14 months that Iraq is under military occupation and is pregnant with bitter and untoward events. Apart from the fact that the occupiers have committed atrocities against human beings, on average, 10 Iraqi civilians, be they women, men children or teenagers, are killed every day. This has infuriated the people of the country and Muslims in the region. Muslim religious principles and beliefs, particularly those of Shi'is, have been encroached upon. This has only infuriated people further and filled them with hatred.
Under the current circumstances, the developments and the crisis in Iraq, which cause concern, can be considered and analysed in terms of a few well-defined criteria. Firstly, the occupying forces have crossed the red lines drawn by the eminent religious sources of emulation and scholars at the Najaf Theological Seminary. Military operations have spilled over into the cities of Najaf and Karbala. This has caused grave concern throughout the Islamic world, particularly among the Iraqi people and the sources of religious emulation in Iraq, as well as outside that country. They are following the matter closely.
Secondly, military clashes have continued, and indeed escalated, in various Iraqi cities. The escalation of the conflict may prepare the ground for wider clashes between the people and the occupying forces. Thirdly, the occupiers' decision to cross the red line and enter sensitive areas, from which they had been barred, can have dangerous consequences. Their decision to do so can make the situation in Iraq unpredictable.
Certainly the existence of holy sites, such as the sacred shrine of the exalted Imam Ali, the first Shi'i Imam, peace be upon him, and the leader of freedom-lovers, Imam Husayn, the third Shi'i Imam, and the ancient Najaf Theological Seminary, has led the people and the sources of religious emulation in Iraq, as well as Shi'is and Muslims in every part of the Islamic world, to interpret any kind of encroachment upon and adventurism in Najaf and Karbala as being tantamount to encroachment upon their sanctities and religious beliefs. Thus they have shown extreme sensitivity to this matter.
It is for that reason that the consequences of any encroachment on those sanctities by the occupying forces will lead to the escalation of the crisis and, as a result, new variables will be introduced into the current crisis in the occupied country of Iraq. This will only further complicate the situation in which the occupying forces find themselves. They will be responsible for any untoward developments.