Shiites in S. Iraq Rebuke Tehran

U.S. Army soldiers talk with residents during a foot patrol in the Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad.
U.S. Army soldiers talk with residents during a foot patrol in the Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad. (By Hadi Mizban -- Associated Press)

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By Amit R. Paley and Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 22, 2007

BAGHDAD, Nov. 21 -- More than 300,000 Shiite Muslims from southern Iraq have signed a petition condemning Iran for fomenting violence in Iraq, according to a group of sheiks leading the campaign.

"The Iranians, in fact, have taken over all of south Iraq," said a senior tribal leader from the south who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his life. "Their influence is everywhere."

The unusually organized Iraqi rebuke illustrates the divisions that Iran has provoked among Iraq's majority Shiites. The prime minister and major political blocs are closely tied to Iran, but the petition organizers said many citizens are fiercely opposed to Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs.

Several sheiks leading the campaign traveled to the capital from the southern province of Diwaniyah and showed The Washington Post and other news organizations an electronic file filled with images of signatures they said endorsed the petition. Their effort is being supported by the People's Mujaheddin Organization of Iran, or Mujaheddin-e Khalq, an Iranian opposition group that is listed by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization but that nonetheless enjoys U.S. military protection in Iraq.

The petition, which the organizers said was signed by 600 sheiks, calls on the United Nations to send a delegation to investigate what it termed crimes committed by Iran and its proxies in southern Iraq.

"The most painful stab in the back of the Shiites in Iraq by the Iranian regime has been its shameful abuse of Shiite religion to achieve its ominous end," the sheiks said a statement. "The only solution and hopeful prospect for Iraq, and in particular the southern provinces, is the eviction of the Iranian regime from our homeland."

The campaign echoes repeated pronouncements by U.S. officials that Iran has been instigating violence in Iraq and allowing weapons to flow across the border, though U.S. officials have said in recent weeks that Iran appeared to be honoring a pledge to clamp down on weapons smuggling.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Tuesday that the United States had agreed to an Iraqi proposal for a fourth round of talks between U.S. and Iranian officials on the situation in Iraq. "We are open to using this channel as a way of talking directly about important issues concerning security in Iraq," he told reporters in Washington.

Meanwhile, scattered violence across Iraq on Wednesday left at least 15 people dead, an Interior Ministry official said.

A suicide car bomber killed at least four people and wounded six when he detonated a vehicle packed with explosives outside the courthouse in the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi, said Khalid al-Alwani, a local tribal leader.

The attack was one of the largest in recent months in Anbar, the former Sunni insurgent stronghold that has become relatively peaceful this year since a group of tribal leaders joined with the U.S. military to fight the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The U.S. military announced that an American soldier and an Iraqi interpreter were killed Tuesday by a roadside bomb. The military said the attack, which wounded three other soldiers, was caused by an explosively formed penetrator, a weapon that U.S. officials believe is manufactured in Iran.

The British Defense Ministry also confirmed that the crash of a Royal Air Force Puma helicopter near Baghdad on Tuesday killed two British troops and wounded two others. It said the cause of the crash is under investigation.

Special correspondents Zaid Sabah and Dalya Hassan in Baghdad and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.


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