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Cleric: Iraq's Sadr turns down peace appeal
Updated: 2004-04-06 08:48

Radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has turned down an appeal by Iraq's powerful Shi'ite Muslim establishment to renounce violence, an aide to a leading cleric said on Monday.

Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. [Reuters file]
An aide to Mohammad Bahr al-Uloum, a member of the U.S.-installed Iraqi Governing Council, told Reuters Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, regarded as Iraq's most powerful cleric and a rival of Sadr's, supported the appeal.

Sistani has made declarations in the past calling on Iraqis to respect state institutions and public order. He has not spoken directly on the violence involving Sadr's supporters, but he is expected to make a statement in the next few days.

"The Hawza (seminary) is unanimous on this," the aide said.

"We asked Moqtada (al-Sadr) to stop resorting to violence, occupying public buildings and other actions that make him an outlaw. He insists on staying on the same course that could destroy the nation."

He said Moqtada had refused to meet a tribal delegation and representatives of Bahr al-Uloum at the main mosque of Kufa, near the holy city of Najaf, where he is staging a sit-in with armed followers.

"The delegation met Moqtada's aides, who did not express interest in relying on wisdom and patience," the aide said.

A Shi'ite religious source said Sadr has moved from Kufa to Najaf's Imam Ali shrine, the holiest Shi'ite site in Iraq, and armed followers have closed off streets leading to the shrine.

U.S. authorities occupying Iraq said on Monday an arrest warrant had been issued for Sadr in connection with the murder of a Shi'ite cleric a year ago. Sadr has denied involvement in the crime.

The murder of Sayyed Abdel Majid al-Khoei, the son of the late Grand Ayatollah Abu al-Qassem al-Khoei, shattered a peace that have reigned between Iraq's Shi'ite leadership for decades after agreeing to renounce violence as means for settling disputes.

Hamid al-Bayati, spokesman for the Shi'ite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), criticized the announcement of the arrest warrant against Badr.

"The incident took place a year ago and I don't think any Iraqi would believe that this arrest warrant is at the right time," he told CNN. "It is very bad timing, even if the basis is right. I don't know why they decided to act now.

"This comes after the closure of a newspaper which is nothing to do with the arrest warrant. So there must be some other things behind all these clashes."

Iraq's de facto U.S. governor Paul Bremer termed Sadr an outlaw on Monday, a day after battles between Sadr's militia and U.S.-led coalition troops in Baghdad and near Najaf killed 48 Iraqis, eight American soldiers and one Salvadoran soldier.

For the past week, Sadr has been at the head of violent anti-American protests. His followers have sworn to fight back if attempts are made to arrest him.

Unlike the Shi'ite religious establishment, Sadr has flatly denounced the U.S.-led occupation and demanded the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

His brand of nationalistic Islam appeals mainly to young poor Shi'ites who grew up under a crippling economic embargo and repression by the former Baathist government.

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