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PARIS, 6 Sept. (IPS) Senior Sunnis Iraqi religious authorities have accused their counterpart from the majority Shi’ite community of "ethnic purification" on order from Iranian ayatollahs, according to the influential French daily "Le Monde".

This is the first time that the Iraqi sunnis, who are in minority, make such accusation, warning that if the policy continue, it might lead to a fratricide war between Iraq’s 20 millions Muslims, 60 per cent Shi’ite who, despite their majority, had no word under the toppled regime of Saddam Hoseyn.

In the Sunnis mirror is the young Shi’ite firebrand Hojjatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr, the 26 years-old son of Ayatollah al-Sadr, a leading Shi’ite cleric killed by the former dictator.

The turbulent Moqtada is suspected for the assassination of Hojjatoleslam Abdolmajid al-Kho’i, a pro-west cleric killed in the holy city of Najaf days after his return to Iraq from London last April as well as raids on the residences and offices of several leading Iraqi Shi’a dignitaries known for their moderation, including Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the nation’s highest religious authority but of Iranian blood.

"We used to have a minimum of co-ordination with Moqtada al-Sadr, but he has changed ever since his return from Tehran, some forty days ago, where he met with Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i (the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran), Sheykh Abdal Salam al-Kubaisi, the spokesman for the Committee of Sunni Ulemas told the French news agency AFP.

"Iran has entered on the Iraqi scene. It does not like meetings and fraternisation between mosques", he has added, accusing the followers of Moqtada for "ethnic cleansing" of the hawzahs, or religious centers, "Le Monde" said on its Saturday issue dated for Sunday and Monday.

After having created his own army, the young cleric took over the former "Saddam City", a poor suburb of Baghdad inhabited by two millions Shi’ites, now renamed "Sadr City" after his father, Moqtada started a campaign of intimidation against Iraqi religious personalities opposed to the mixing of religion and politics while multiplying strong worded anti-American declarations, urging the Iraqis to boot out "infidels and Zionist occupiers", a rhetoric which is also heard by hard line Iranian ayatollahs.

"One after another, the Shi’ites first took control over the al-Hamza mosque, the only one we have in Najaf, then that of Hasan Ben Ali in Karbala (where is burried Hoseyn, Ali’s second son and the Shi’ites third imam, also a holy city for the Shi’ites) and sixteen others we have in Iraq, twelve of them in the Capital", Sheykh al-Kubaisi informed.

"Emptying Najaf and Karbala from Sunnis presence is not only a very dangerous practice, a reminder of ethnic cleansing, but it would also herald the balkanisation of Iraq", Mr. Kubaisi warned.

According to this cleric, it the Sunnis keep a low profile, it is because of the present situation, where every Iraqi, Sunni or Shi’a, must avoid confrontation and bloodshed, "the very trap laid by the (American) enemy", according to both AFP and Le Monde.

The unprecedented -- though not unexpected – accusations comes nine days after the assassination of Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Hakim, the leader of the Iran-backed Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SAIRI) and one of Iraq’s senior Shi’ite dignitary in a powerful car bomb explosion that damaged the main entrance of the golden shrine of Ali, world’s Shi’ites first and most revered imam, in Najaf, 150 kilometres south of Baghdad.

So far, there has been no official reaction from Mr. Moqtada al-Sadr. For its part, the SAIRI, now led by Hojjatoleslam Abdelaziz al-Hakim, the younger brother of the assassinated Ayatollah, has expressed its "surprise" over the accusations.

It is in such a climate that attacks on Shi’ite and Sunni mosques as well as their leaders are on the rise. Hojjatoleslam Ali Wadi al-Musavi, a personal representative of Grand Ayatollah Sistani escaped an assassination attempt on his life last week as he was entering a mosque in the Kazemiyah district of Baghdad almost at the same time that a Sunni mosque was attacked by unidentified armed men, wounding three worshippers.

"Some are doing their best to bring a war between Sunnis and Shi’as", Le Monde quoted Sheykh Walid al-Azzaoui, a Sunni cleric, accusing "mercenaries" who have entered Iraq and works hand sin hands with followers of the former tyrant.

"The Americans are more terrorists than Saddam’s regime", claims Moqtada, suspecting "forces of occupation" of being behind all these "terrible tragedies".
27 posted on 09/07/2003 9:46:35 PM PDT by F14 Pilot
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