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Iraq’s divided parliament stands united over Israel
Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers in Iraq's U.S.-backed parliament often fail to see eye to eye, but on Sunday they stood united in their condemnation of Israel's military offensive against Lebanon.
Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has been pleading with fellow Iraqis to put aside deep sectarian and ethnic divisions of the kind that plunged Lebanon into civil war 30 years ago.
His pleas have gone largely unheeded, but Israel's five-day-old assault on Lebanon that has killed more than 116 people, all but four of them civilians, has evoked strong feelings of solidarity among Iraqis, bridging the sectarian divide.
"Support Hassan Nasrallah and stand by his side and you will be closer to the angels in heaven," wrote Hameed Abdullah, a Sunni, in an editorial in al-Mashriq newspaper, referring to the leader of Shi'ite Hizbollah, the target of the Israeli campaign.
The Iraqi media has closely followed developments in the offensive, and Iraqiya state television has flashed breaking news in red script across normal programming, a practice usually reserved for its coverage of the daily carnage in Iraq.
And whether by coincidence or design, communal and insurgent violence appears to have dipped slightly in Iraq since Israel began its campaign, launched after Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight on Wednesday.
Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the Sunni speaker of parliament, sent a personal message to his Lebanese counterpart on Sunday, telling him that Iraqis supported Lebanon's efforts to defend its "sovereignty ... against outrageous Israeli aggression".
The Iraqi parliament earlier passed a motion unanimously condemning the Israeli offensive and urging the U.N. Security Council and Group of Eight leaders meeting in St Petersburg to intervene "to stop the ... Israeli criminal aggression".
It followed a statement by Maliki a day earlier, in which the Shi'ite Islamist prime minister, making a rare foray into foreign affairs, denounced Israel and warned of the dangers of escalating tensions in the region.
His Shi'ite-dominated government, installed two months ago in a U.S.-sponsored electoral process, has focused its foreign policy on mending ties with its neighbours, partly to improve security by hindering foreign aid to guerrilla groups.
Other Arabs have been suspicious of Iraq's new rulers, partly because of the dominant U.S. military role in Baghdad. Maliki has been at pains to demonstrate independence and to improve ties with the mostly Sunni Muslim Arab leaders.
Popular Shi'ite-run al-Bayyna newspaper, praising the Hizbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel, said: "About half a million Jews are sitting in underground shelters. The Jihadi missiles were stronger than those of the warplanes of Zion."
In the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf, civil servant Muhsin Hassan, 27, said he was prepared to join the fight against Israel: "If there is any chance of reaching south Lebanon, we'll be ready to go to fight with our brothers in Hizbollah."
In a sermon in Najaf on Friday, radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr urged Iraqis to stand behind Lebanon to confront a "common enemy".
In the ethnically mixed northern city of Mosul, labourer Uday Mohammed said: "What's going on in Lebanon is no different from the situation in Iraq ... Innocent blood is being shed."