Iraq Clerics Discuss Ways to End Violence

The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 10, 2006; 12:49 PM

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Baghdad's most senior Shiite cleric urged Iraqis Wednesday to unite for the sake of security as about 50 clerics and tribal leaders met in the capital to discuss ways of ending widespread violence.

Dressed in outfits ranging from business suits and ties to traditional Arab robes and head scarves, the tribal leaders and Sunni Arab, Shiite and Kurdish clerics met at Al-Hashimi mosque in northern Baghdad. At one point, they knelt on a carpet to pray together in a unified ritual.

Ayatollah Hussein Ismail al-Sadr, Baghdad's most senior Shiite cleric, called for an end to bloodshed.

"Iraq is undergoing its most critical stage ever. Our blood is being shed every minute and our ordeals are increasing every day. The safety of Iraq should be above all other goals," he said.

Al-Sadr urged his countrymen to "respect the opinions and beliefs of each other because it is the only way to preserve our country."

He said U.N. and Arab League envoys had been invited to attend the meeting and he was disappointed they had not.

"Their absence has a negative effect," he said.

Ashraf Qazi, the U.N.'s special envoy in Iraq, was out of the country on Wednesday and his office said it was not aware that he had been invited.

Hundreds of people were killed in Baghdad alone last month, their unidentified bodies dumped around the city in what Iraq's president said Wednesday was a wake up call for feuding factions to unite against surging crime and terrorism in the country.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said in a statement that the 1,091 bodies found in the Baghdad are in April were just the tip of the iceberg.

© 2006 The Associated Press