Tensions rise between Shiites, al-Sadr
A police raid Saturday on an extremist Shiite Muslim mosque thought to be the headquarters of an extremist cult capped a weekend of violence...
BAGHDAD — A police raid Saturday on an extremist Shiite Muslim mosque thought to be the headquarters of an extremist cult capped a weekend of violence in Southern Iraq, while elsewhere tensions between Iraq's Shiite-led government and renegade Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr continued to escalate.
Iraq's national-security adviser said he was briefly taken hostage Saturday in a Baghdad mosque and implied that his captors were al-Sadr supporters. Mowaffak al-Rubaie was released only after intervention by Iraq's interior minister, who oversees the police.
Al-Rubaie said al-Sadr's followers "used the same tactics that they used before on Abdul Majid al-Khoei." Sadrists were accused of fatally stabbing al-Khoei, a moderate young Shiite cleric who was considered a rival to al-Sadr, in 2003. A warrant for al-Sadr was issued in 2004, but has never been executed, and he has denied any involvement.
Friday, a spokesman for al-Sadr warned that the cleric might not extend a six-month cease-fire by his Mahdi Army, which U.S. officials say has contributed to the reduction in violence in Iraq. In a statement, Salah al-Obeidi charged that rival Shiite militias have infiltrated Iraq's security forces and that some senior security officials remain in their jobs although they have been charged with human-rights offenses.
"This will force us to reconsider the decision to extend the cease-fire despite repeated public statements in the past that we will," al-Obeidi said.
Police attacked the booby-trapped mosque on the outskirts of Nasiriyah the day after its members attacked police in Basra and Nasiriyah, killing more than 100 people and injuring more than 200 in the two cities.
Officials later said the group intended to kill religious clerics and other noteworthy people who were among the thousands of pilgrims for the culmination of Ashura, one of the most important Shiite Muslim holidays. In the southern city of Basra, the group also briefly took control of an oil company's offices before being repelled.
Elsewhere in Iraq, three suicide bombers attacked a police checkpoint in Ramadi, killing six police and injuring 13 in the predominantly Sunni city. In Western Iraq, a rocket killed seven people in Tal Afar on the Syrian border. Northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province, a roadside bomb killed three bodyguards in the provincial governor's convoy.
Friday's clashes were the worst violence in months in Basra, where British forces handed over control of the city a month ago. Nearly 100 people were killed, including 80 cult members, another 112 were reported injured and Brig. Gen. Shamkhi Nour Hussein, the head of national intelligence and investigations in Basra, said that about 100 people were arrested.
Some reports identified the attackers as the Shiite cultist group Jund al-Samaa, or Soldiers of Heaven, but police officials said more information on the group's identity would be released in coming days.
The Soldiers of Heaven was responsible for an attack a year ago that ended with the deaths of more than 350 cult members after a shootout with U.S. and Iraq security forces outside Najaf and the Shiite holy city of Karbala.
This year's high holy days in Karbala passed absent the slaughter of pilgrims witnessed in the years since the U.S.-led invasion nearly half a decade ago.
Fearing a spectacular attack on the masses of self-flagellating faithful who marched on the shrines in Karbala, Iraqi authorities flooded the city with 30,000 police and soldiers. Soviet-made tanks guarded approach roads.
A relatively uneventful passage of Ashura had been seen by U.S. and Iraqi officials as a rigorous test of the decline in violence in the country since Washington sent 30,000 additional troops last year and many Sunni insurgents joined American forces in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq.
The festival, largely banned by Saddam Hussein and his minority Sunni Muslim regime, recalls the death of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in a seventh-century battle near Karbala. The combat defined the split between Islam's Sunni and Shiite sects.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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