Vol. 5 Num 926 Sat. January 06, 2007  

Iraqi PM accuses Sunni clerics of fuelling tension

Iraq's prime minister accused a leading Sunni Muslim clerics' group on Friday of stoking tension by saying that militias were preparing attacks on Sunni neighbourhoods in Baghdad.

The Muslim Clerics' Association, an umbrella grouping of religious leaders of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, said in a statement on Thursday that militias linked to an unnamed political group were planning attacks.

"The statement from the Muslim Clerics' Association is totally baseless and raises tension, and we hold the Muslim Clerics responsible for any action that results from this," said a statement from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office.

The clerics' statement did not identify the militia or say that it was Shia. But the use of the word "militia" and the suggestion of links to government parties is an unmistakable indication to Iraqis that it was accusing Shia groups.

Sectarian tension has been particularly high over the past week, since Maliki rushed through the hanging of former president Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, and a video circulated showing him being taunted on the gallows by supporters of the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Rumors and fears of militia activity were reported by residents on Thursday but there were no reports by Friday of anything out of the ordinary in a city where dozens of bodies turn up every day, apparent victims of death squad kidnappers.

Washington has identified Sadr's Mehdi Army militia as the greatest threat to security in Iraq. Various other groups in government are linked to militias.

Sectarian attacks and threats have driven tens of thousands of people from their homes in Baghdad and many districts that used to have mixed populations have become more and more divided along sectarian lines.