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Baghdad mosques closed for three days

May 21, 2005

BAGHDAD, May 20: Baghdad’s major mosques closed for three days on Friday in response to a call by a group representing Iraq’s Sunni ulema to protest against ‘killings of preachers by a Shia militia’. The closure, called by the influential Muslim Clerics Association, came amid a surge of violence that has killed more than 500 people since a new government promising improved security was formed last month.

“In protest over attacks on mosques and killings of clerics, the detentions of worshippers and theft of their property, the Sunni leadership is closing mosques,” preacher Muayad al A’adhami said at Friday prayers at the Abu Hanifa mosque.

Last week, Harith al Dhari, head of the Muslim Clerics Association, accused the Badr Brigades militia of carrying out attacks on Sunnis. The leader of the Badr Brigades denied the charges.

Sunni religious leaders said the mosque protests were limited to Baghdad, but frustrations have spread to towns such as Ramadi in the west, where witnesses said thousands protested on Friday over the desecration of the Holy Quran at the Guanatanamo Bay.

“Political solutions are over and military solutions will start. We will die rather than accept the desecration of our holy book and the detention of our women,” said Samir al Dulaimi, head of the Muslim Clerics Association in Anbar province, during the protest.

Although Sunnis lack a united leadership, the Muslim Clerics Association has considerable influence. Hence accusations against the Badr Brigades are likely to focus Sunni anger.

“The Badr Brigades are responsible for all that is happening to Sunnis and Shias in Iraq,” Samir Dulaimi said. Moqtada al Sadr, the fiery Shia leader who led two uprisings against US troops last year, told his supporters to avoid getting drawn into a sectarian conflict.

“You shall not let yourselves be the starting point of a sectarian strife,” Sadr said before Friday prayers near Najaf. His followers burned an American flag to protest against the US presence in Iraq. In Baghdad, guerillas kept up a campaign to topple the US-backed government with attacks on Iraqi forces. Two policemen were killed in a roadside bomb attack on a patrol, police said.

West of the capital, guerillas fired rockets at the Abu Ghraib prison, wounding five detainees. No US troops were injured. —Reuters