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At 2 Baghdad Mosques, Unity Against Violence, Not on Vote

Sunni, Shiite Prayer Leaders Speak Out After Blast Kills 15

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, January 22, 2005; Page A13

BAGHDAD, Jan. 21 -- Sunni and Shiite Muslim prayer leaders condemned a bombing Friday at a Shiite mosque that killed 15 people during the celebration of one of the most important holidays in Islam. But the preachers differed on the relationship between the violence and the Jan. 30 vote for an Iraqi parliament.

The bombing was the deadliest episode in a series of bloody attacks across the country on Friday. As part of a predicted surge in violence, insurgents beheaded a member of Iraq's security forces, blew up a police station north of Baghdad and killed two foreign soldiers, one from the United States and one from Italy.

A U.S. soldier walks by the crater left after a car bombing at a Shiite Muslim mosque in Baghdad killed 15 people, the deadliest episode on a day of violence around Iraq. The dead elsewhere included an American soldier and an Italian. (Ali Jasim -- Reuters)

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After nightfall, explosions rattled the capital, which was subdued during observance of the holiday of Eid al-Adha. An ambulance packed with explosives plowed into a Shiite wedding party near Yusufiyah, south of Baghdad, killing seven people and wounding 16, including the bride and groom, the Associated Press reported.

The attacks at the mosque and wedding party clearly targeted Shiites, Iraq's long-repressed majority. In large numbers, they have embraced the elections as a way to obtain power commensurate with their numbers. While opinions among members of the Sunni minority are mixed, some influential Sunni groups have urged a boycott, and the most militant have threatened to disrupt the vote by attacking polling stations, candidates and voters.

The attacks Friday came a day after Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant who has declared himself an ally of Osama bin Laden, berated Iraq's Shiites for cooperating with U.S. forces. He also denounced the Shiite community's most prominent leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, in a 74-minute audio recording posted on the Internet.

The sectarian cast to the violence has unsettled many in Baghdad, where residents point to intermarriage and mixed neighborhoods as signs that the Sunni-Shiite divide is often exaggerated. At Friday prayers in prominent mosques, speakers were quick to denounce the morning attack on the Taf mosque in southwest Baghdad.

"We condemn the targeting of places of worship," Mahmoud Sumaidae, a Sunni prayer leader, said at the Um al-Qura mosque, known for its fierce anti-occupation rhetoric. "What happened this morning in targeting the mosque is sabotage aimed at dividing the nation and its unity."

At Baratha, a revered Shiite mosque, the preacher, Jalaledin Saghir, declared that the attacks "will not sway us from our path, nor will they break our will."

"Our Sunni brothers have distanced themselves from and condemned these acts because we have lived together side by side for centuries, and during this long history, families have been made and tribal ties forged and cemented by coexistence," Saghir said.

But even in the shared moment of denunciation of the attacks, a gulf persists between the two communities over the Jan. 30 elections.

At the Shiite mosque, Saghir said the attack would only reinforce a determination to take part in the vote because "the will of God is stronger than the will of the terrorists."

"Whatever they do, it will not change the outcome because there are only 10 days separating us from the day when we will say, 'No to dictatorships!' " he said. As Saghir spoke, worshipers chanted: "We will go to the ballot boxes even if we have to crawl."

At the Sunni mosque, Sumaidae said the violence was proof that the climate was too unsettled and too dangerous to hold the elections.

"How can the government urge an election while it cannot protect the places of worship in the country? How will it protect the voter?" he asked. "That is why we say and we will continue to say there should first be a safe atmosphere. There should be an atmosphere without the occupier and an atmosphere in which people all live as brothers."

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