Iraq Says Troops Will Stop Raiding Mosques
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
BAGHDAD, May 16 -- The Iraqi government said Monday that its soldiers would no longer raid mosques in their fight against insurgents, ending a practice that Sunni Arab leaders had long opposed on grounds that it provoked sectarian strife.
Later in the day, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari met with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most influential spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, and said afterward that their discussion included "participation of Sunnis in the political process."
The conciliatory gestures by the Shiite-led government came as a wave of attacks and execution-style killings continued. A rocket attack Monday at a Baghdad university killed four engineering students, and authorities discovered the bodies of 13 more people who had been slain in Baghdad, according to the Defense Ministry, bringing the total of bodies found to about 50 in the past two days.
A suicide attacker detonated a car bomb in the northern town of Rabia, killing five people and wounding more than 30, Police Lt. Miteb Ibrahim said. The attack occurred Monday at around 5 p.m. near the Syrian border, and most victims were immigration office employees or travelers waiting to have their passports stamped.
In Baghdad, two car bombs at a market exploded in quick succession, killing nine soldiers and a civilian, the Associated Press reported. The second blast targeted soldiers who had rushed in to help the victims of the first.
During a visit to Iraq on Sunday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged the government to try to bridge sectarian divisions by incorporating more Sunni Arabs into the government. The minority group is underrepresented in the National Assembly because Sunnis largely boycotted Iraq's Jan. 30 elections.
At a news conference in Baghdad, Defense Minister Sadoun Dulaimi, a Sunni Arab, said he had "received many complaints from citizens . . . about random raids and arrest campaigns" conducted by Iraqi forces. From now on, he said, "it is strictly prohibited that any employee of the Defense Ministry raid worship places."
Responding to another frequent Sunni complaint, Dulaimi said he would work to see that people detained by government forces were processed more quickly and released if no ties to terrorism were found.
U.S. and Iraqi officials say they believe that the insurgency, which has taken more than 430 lives since Iraq's cabinet was formed late last month, is made up largely of Iraqi Sunnis and Arab fighters from other countries.
Sunni leaders have expressed outrage in recent weeks over a spate of raids on their mosques and political organizations.
The National Dialogue Council, a Sunni political group whose negotiations with Jafari helped bring several Sunnis into his cabinet, has been raided three times this month, its members say, though it is unclear who was responsible. Last week, Iraqi security forces raided Baghdad's Mukhtar mosque, detaining its preacher, Sheik Abdul-Karim.
On Monday, Sunni leaders welcomed the government's new policy, though some did so cautiously.