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Head Shia Cleric Calls for End to Iraqi Sectarian Violence

Amid an admission by the U.S. military Thursday that sectarian violence in Iraq had only slightly decreased, Iraq's top Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani has called for an end to the "hatred and violence." A reporter in Baghdad discusses the day's violence and announcement.

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    Borzou Daragahi, welcome. One of the most important men in Iraq, the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has called for calm, called for an end to the violence. What has he asked his countrymen?

  • BORZOU DARAGAHI, Los Angeles Times:

    I mean, he's basically — he hasn't issued a fatwa, which is a religious edict, but he issued a very strong statement condemning the ongoing violence, calling on people not to fall into the trap of sectarian and ethnic conflict and strife.

    And he signed the letter with his hand, which is extremely rare. Usually the statements are issued by his office. And he included his personal seal on this letter, so it was a very personal, very rare, very heartfelt appeal to the Iraqi people to stop killing each other.


    Periodically, in the years since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Sistani has come forward publicly. Does he still have the same kind of ability to affect events on the ground?


    Well, I think that's a really good question. I think a lot of people are saying that he doesn't have as much influence as he used to have and that, in any case, the people with whom he has influence with, the vast majority of moderate, peace-loving Iraqi Shiites, aren't really the people who are causing the trouble. It's the young hotheads who are allied with different factions, who look up to different clergy, who are fueling a lot of the violence.


    What are the kinds of events over the last several days that's brought Sistani out publicly? Has this been a particularly bloody run of days?


    Well, I think it's been a very, very bloody time at this point in Iraq, starting with a couple of bombings of mosques in one particular neighborhood; followed by a massacre, really, of Sunni Arabs in that neighborhood; basically gunmen sealing off the neighborhood, going house-to-house looking for Sunnis, and taking them out and shooting them, you know; followed a sort of period of bombings and shootings; and then punctuated by a really horrific scene in the town of Mahmoudiya, just south of Baghdad, where a bunch of apparent Sunni gunmen stormed a village with high-caliber weapons and started opening fire on people, running and screaming women and children included, mowing them down in the streets, essentially.

    The next morning there was a huge car bombing of a little marketplace where day-laborers were gathered. Apparently, the driver of the suicide vehicle started enticing the people over with the promise of work, saying, "I have day labor for you." They came over, and he blew up the car, so just really horrific acts of violence.

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