Key Iraqi opponents of the U.S. occupation expressed unease Friday over the wave of insurgent attacks that killed more than 100 Iraqis a day earlier, and rejected efforts by foreign guerrillas to take the lead in the insurgency and mate it with the international jihad advocated by Osama bin Laden.
The objections -- from anti-U.S. Shiite and Sunni Muslim leaders, including rebellious cleric Moqtada Sadr, and even from militia fighters in the embattled city of Fallujah -- arose in part from revulsion at the fact that victims of the car bombings and guerrilla assaults in six cities and towns Thursday were overwhelmingly Iraqis. But they also betrayed Iraqi nationalist concerns that the fight against U.S. occupation forces risked being hijacked by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian whom U.S. officials describe as a paladin in bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
"We do not need anyone from outside the borders to stand with us and spill the blood of our sons in Iraq," Ahmed Abdul Ghafour Samarrae, a Sunni cleric with a wide following, declared in his Friday sermon at Umm al Qurra mosque in Baghdad.
Since they were appointed three weeks ago, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and members of his U.S.-sponsored interim government have railed against the car bombings and other attacks. But Friday's show of disgust -- expressed in mosques and, in Sadr's case, with fliers calling for cooperation with Iraqi police -- marked the first time anti-occupation clerics and fighters sided against violence associated with the insurgency, for which Zarqawi has increasingly asserted responsibility.
In that light, it could be an important moment in the U.S. struggle to win acceptance for the military occupation and for the interim government scheduled to acquire limited authority next Wednesday. While far from embracing the U.S. occupation or the new government, the anti-occupation leaders seemed to disavow the bloodiest edge of the violence and Zarqawi's attempt to make it part of al Qaeda's vision of international jihad.
"Which religion allows anyone to kill more than 100 Iraqis, destroy 100 families and destroy 100 houses?" raged Samarrae in his sermon. "Who says so? Who are those people who do this? Where did they come from? . . . It is a conspiracy to defame the reputation of the Iraqi resistance by wearing its dress and using its name falsely. These people hurt the Iraqis and Iraq, giving the occupier an excuse to stay longer."
Samarrae said he had learned that some Iraqi insurgent leaders have begun to clash with Zarqawi loyalists, insisting the jihadists do not represent the "right and true resistance." He warned against those who he said want to tear the country apart in the name of Islam and suggested they were foreigners who should not be part of Iraq's conflict.
In a similar vein, a group of masked fighters in Fallujah stood before Reuters television cameras and read a statement insisting that the city's violent struggle against surrounding U.S. Marines is being carried out by Fallujans, not Zarqawi or other foreign fighters.
"The American invader forces claim that Zarqawi, and with him a group of Arab fighters, are in our city," said one of the heavily armed men, reading from a paper. "We know that this talk about Zarqawi and the fighters is a game that the American invader forces are playing to strike Islam and Muslims in the city of mosques, steadfast Fallujah."
Shortly after their declaration, the U.S. military launched precision weapons against what it called a Zarqawi safe house, the third such strike in less than a week.
In Baqubah, where scores of fighters proclaiming allegiance to Zarqawi attacked police stations and government buildings in Thursday's offensive, clerics called on the faithful not to support such attacks. The attackers, they said in their Friday sermons, were foreigners attacking Iraqis.
"This is the first time we have heard the minaret broadcast support for the Iraqi government," said Edward Peter Messmer, the occupation authority's coordinator for the Baqubah region, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. "And it couldn't come at a better time."
Sadr, whose Mahdi Army has fought U.S. troops in the Sadr City slum in eastern Baghdad and in Najaf, 90 miles to the south, ordered his followers to lay down their weapons and cooperate with Iraqi police in Sadr City to "deprive the terrorists and saboteurs of the chance to incite chaos and extreme lawlessness."
"We know the Mahdi Army is ready to cooperate actively and positively with honest elements from among the Iraqi police and other patriotic forces, to partake in safeguarding government buildings and facilities, such as hospitals, electricity plants, water, fuel and oil refineries, and any other site that might be a target for terrorist attacks," said an order from the Mahdi Army distributed in Sadr City.
Interior Minister Falah Naqib said Sadr's militiamen were welcome to join the police or army as individuals, but not to patrol alongside regular police units.
Abdul Hadi Darraji, a Sadr spokesman in Sadr City, said Sadr's order was issued in part to see whether U.S. occupation authorities were serious about transferring power to Allawi's government. If they were, he suggested, Sadr's movement could continue cooperating with Iraqi authorities in combating terrorists who, he said, come from outside the country.
"This gesture is designed to distinguish between honorable, legal resistance against the occupation and the dishonorable resistance, which does not target the occupation, but targets the Iraqi people," he said.
Aws Khafaji, a cleric in Sadr's militantly political stream of Shiite Islam, disowned Thursday's violence even more clearly in a sermon at the Hikma mosque in Sadr City.
"We condemn and denounce yesterday's bombings and attacks on police centers and innocent Iraqis, which claimed about 100 lives," he said. "These are attacks launched by suspects and lunatics who are bent on destabilizing the country and ruining the peace so that the Iraqi people will remain in need of American protection."
Sadr's militia, as far as is known, has not been involved in the car bombings and assaults against Iraqi police and government officials across the country in recent weeks. His fighters concentrated their battle against U.S. troops in Sadr City and the Najaf area, although they also fought with Iraqi police seeking to patrol Najaf until a cease-fire was established there earlier this month.
Shiite political leaders have sought for several months to persuade Sadr to disband his militia and transform his organization into a political movement. He has expressed a tentative willingness to do so. But his lieutenants have refused to participate in choosing a national congress due to convene next month, citing what they call a skewed formula for representing Iraq's ethnic and religious groups.
Correspondent Scott Wilson in Baqubah contributed to this report.