Muqtada calls for Sunni-Shiite Marches, Prayers
Wants Pan-Islamic Resolution for US Withdrawal
Al-Zaman / AFP report that [Ar.] young Shiite nationalist leader Muqtada al-Sadr, having arrived at Basra on Sunday from Iran, called for a joint peaceful demonstration involving both Shiites and Sunnis that demands the departure of US, British and other foreign troops from Iraq and calls for concord between Sunnis and Shiites.
Muqtada once again blamed the United States for the destruction of the Askariyah Shrine at Samarra.
Sadr said before a big crowd of his supporters in the southern Gulf port, "I call for a united, peaceful demonstration in the capital, Baghdad, which you will organize at a specific time, involving Shiites, Sunnis and others, in which you will demand the withdrawal of the Occupying forces, and call for mutual love among you." He made an attempt to rein in the Mahdi Army militias [plural in the original Arabic report], whom Sunnis accuse of burning Sunni mosques in Baghdad after the Samarra attack.
Muqtada said, "The leaders of Friday prayers throughout Iraq, from the north to the south and from east to west, must call for this peaceful demonstration among all sections of the Iraqi population, who much not be divided as to battle cry. The Iraqi people is one, from north to south."
Muqtada also called for holding "joint Friday communal prayers with both Sunnis and Shiites in the mosques," affirming that "there are no Sunni or Shiite mosques; you are a single people." He added, "We want the Occupation forces out, even if on their own timetable, in an objective fashion, as they say." He said, "Our Iraq is passing through a big crisis, insofar as enemies are entering among brethren, and spreading turmoil among you."
Muqtada wondered aloud, "Do you want to give aid to the enemy? Do you want to render the Occupier victorious? Do you wish to make Satan triumphant, or do you wish to help the Truth?" He added, "If you burn down mosques, are you helping falsehood or the truth? Do you wish to help falsehood?" He shouted, "No, no to falsehood!"
Al-Sadr said, "Do not forget the plotting of the Occupation, for if we forget its plots, it will kill us all without exception." He went on, "Sometimes they curse the Messenger of God [Muhammad] and defame him [with their cartoons], and sometimes they blow up our Imams. This series of attacks is not the first and it will not be the last. The attacks will continue. Beware, and be responsible. Religion is your responsibility, mosques are your responsibility, the Muslim people is your responsibility, so do not attack the secure houses of God. Love one another and be brethren of one another so that our Iraq will be secure and stable and independent. We want the expulsion of the Occupier and not the American ambassador."
A spokesman for Sadr in Najaf, Sahib al-`Ameeri, said that Muqtada's primary mission is to restore order so as to preserve the unity of the Muslims and to protect their holy places.
Another Sadr spokesman, Aws al-Khafaji, said that he had decided to appoint a committee to oversee his supporters. He forbade the Mahdi Army from wearing black, the symbol of their sectarian commitment to the messianic Twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, whom many of them expect to return momentarily. (The Askariyah Shrine in Samarra, blown up last Wednesday, is associated with the Twelfth Imam and his father and grandfather.)
Some Sunni Arabs were not mollified. A spokesman for the (fundamentalist) Iraqi Accord Front, Abdul Salam al-Zawbai, said that what had happened was a shock, since no one had believed that elements of the [Shiite] Mahdi Army [of Muqtada al-Sadr] were capable of committing such deeds. He stressed that no one can at the same time participate in the political process and at the same time carry a weapon and possess a militia. This contradicts the first principles of democracy and the rule of law. He said that Muqtada al-Sadr now has an obligation to conduct himself like the other parties and become a power within the government. He called on al-Sadr to transform his militia into a political organization.
With regard to the issue of the Mahdi Army, Sadr spokesman Sahib al-`Ameeri said that some supporters carried arms as individuals, not as an organized armed militia that has received training. He said those Sadr supporters carried arms to protect their own homes. He added that the "Mahdi Army" represents a school of thought, not a political party. It tries to spread the ideas of Muqtada al-Sadr. He denied that it held regular meetings, rather said it held occasional gatherings.
On Sunday, Al-Sharq al-Awsat/ AFP reported that representatives of Muqtada met with the Sunni hardliners of the Association of Muslim Scholars in the Abu Hanifa mosque in Adhamiyah, north Baghdad. Representing Muqtada was Shaikh Fadil al-Shara along with other Sadrist leaders. AMS was represented by Shaikh Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi and others. The two sides decided on a number of points aimed at calming the situation in the aftermath of Sunni-Shiite riots. They condemned all attacks on mosques such as might lead to civil war.
In Cairo, the Grand Shaikh of al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyid al-Tantawi, offered to go to Iraq to mediate the dispute between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites. He called on them to stand united against the conspiracies against them.