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Originally published Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 6:28 AM

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Sadr visits Baghdad church, site of 2010 attack

Firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr paid a visit Friday to a Baghdad church that was the scene of a deadly 2010 attack as well as one of the Iraqi capital's main Sunni mosques, an apparent overture to other religious groups as opposition mounts against his rival, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The Associated Press

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BAGHDAD —

Firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr paid a visit Friday to a Baghdad church that was the scene of a deadly 2010 attack as well as one of the Iraqi capital's main Sunni mosques, an apparent overture to other religious groups as opposition mounts against his rival, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Sadr said he visited the Our Lady of Salvation church to express sorrow at the attack and send a message of peace to Iraq's Christian community.

The visit comes amid rising sectarian tensions a year after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Al-Sadr grudgingly backed fellow Shiite al-Maliki following elections in 2010. But last year he joined Iraq's minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds in calling for al-Maliki to resign. This week he spoke up for Sunni protesters in the country's west.

Sadr, since coming to prominence following the U.S.-led 2003 invasion, has frequently made overtures to Sunnis and others. But militias loyal to him were some of the worst perpetrators of sectarian violence last decade, and he is still viewed with hostility or suspicion by many Sunnis, Kurds and others.

At the church, al-Sadr sat quietly in the front pew, listening and nodding as Father Ayssar al-Yas welcomed him. The priest then gave al-Sadr a tour of the recently renovated church, pointing out places where attackers in 2010 killed priests and worshippers during a church service ambush. Over 50 were killed in the attack, blamed on Sunni extremists.

Al-Sadr's heavily protected convoy then made its way to the al-Gailani mosque, one of Baghdad's most prominent Sunni places of worship, shortly before midday Friday prayers.

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