Muslim Leaders Reject Hussein’s Call for Holy War on the ‘Infidels’ : Arabs: His plea finds favor with some. But Iran labels it a ‘propaganda ploy’ and Syria spurns Iraqi policies.


Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s call for a holy war against the United States and its Arab allies in the Persian Gulf was rejected Sunday by powerful Muslim religious leaders, even as the Iraqi leader renewed his demand for destruction of the Western “infidels” and their allies.

The latest Iraqi attempt to turn the conflict over Kuwait into a 20th-Century version of the Crusades came Sunday when Baghdad Radio broadcast a seven-minute speech by Hussein.

“We tell all the Arabs, all the believing strugglers . . . wherever they are to rise to jihad (holy war) and struggle by targeting the forces of evil, treachery and corruption everywhere and targeting their interests wherever they are. This is your duty,” Hussein said.

Before he sounded this call, Baghdad Radio sought to inflame religious outrage in neighboring Iran, which opposed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and now pledges to stay neutral in the war, by charging the American-led coalition with desecrating shrines holy to Iranian Muslims.


“Enemy planes launched raids on the holy places and residential areas in Najaf and Karbala,” said the broadcast, monitored here.

Both cities are near the Iranian border and are considered sacred to Iran’s Shiite Muslim population. The radio also called for jihad.

However, while Hussein’s call has found favor among ordinary citizens throughout the Islamic world and has set off sometimes large street demonstrations, most influential Muslim clergy have refused the bait.

This is particularly true in Iran.


“Iraq’s resort to Islam, even the Iraqi missile attacks on Israel, must not confuse us in our judgment on the real nature of the Iraqi regime,” said a report published Sunday by IRNA, the Tehran government news agency, in the name of the nation’s Shiite leaders.

“Putting Allahu akbar (God is Great) on its national flag . . . is a propaganda ploy (that) even Baghdad officials know well,” the IRNA statement said.

In spite of this direct attack by the Muslim-dominated Iranian government, Hussein found some backing from radical Iranian mullahs. The Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhali, once known in the West as the “hanging judge” for his harsh use of Islamic law to punish transgressors, made this statement in the Iranian Parliament:

“We should not leave the Iraqi people standing alone in this battle since, if the United States emerges victorious, it will not leave the region easily.”


And former Interior Minister Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, leader of a radical Iranian clerical group, said: “Today, the Muslim nations of the region, and particularly the Iranian nation, have a religious duty to rise for a holy war in confrontation against the infidel forces of America and Zionism.”

However, these calls are having no effect in Iran, which during its eight-year war with Iraq never hesitated to remind the Islamic world that Hussein was the leader of the secular Arab Baath Socialist Party that suppressed Muslim fundamentalism in his country.

Indeed, Iraq sought during that war to project a secular image to make the point that it was fighting to protect the Arab world from being swept away by the fires of revolutionary Islam.

“Now, to hear Saddam lip-syncing what sounds like a speech written in Tehran does not strike most people, even ordinary people, as all that credible,” one analyst said.


Syria, the object of a major Iraqi campaign to split the Arab world on religious grounds, also rejected the demand for a religious war.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs in Damascus said Sunday that Hussein’s policies have nothing to do with Islam but are “criminal goals.”

Syrian Radio, saying the ministry was acting on behalf of the country’s Muslim clerics, added that “the Gulf War has nothing to do with Islam. Indeed . . . it is the opposite of Islam.

“Saddam Hussein’s use of Islamic slogans to justify his misdeed on religious grounds is an exposed attempt that our true religion condemns,” the ministry said.


Incitement to religious violence also has so far had virtually no effect in Egypt, one of the strongest Arab opponents of Iraq. Officials in Cairo, diplomats and mainstream Islamic religious leaders cite several reasons for this.

“In Egypt, the Islamic movement is deeply split,” said Tahseen Bashir, a retired diplomat and former close adviser to the late President Anwar Sadat. “A few believe that, although the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was bad, the American-led war against Iraq, a fellow Muslim country, is worse.”

But the majority, Bashir added, “are still with King Fahd,” the Saudi Arabian monarch who, as “custodian” of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, exercises a considerable degree of religious authority himself.

This division is mirrored in Cairo’s mosques, where those controlled by the main state-appointed religious authorities continue to toe the government line. Also, many preachers at small neighborhood mosques that have sprung up outside government control have depended in recent years on financial contributions from Saudi Arabia, something that gives them a compelling incentive to hold back their rhetorical fire.


Another reason, in Egypt at least, is that since tensions began to mount in the gulf, tens of thousands of Egyptian workers have been returning from Iraq, and nearly all of them have come back with horror stories about Iraqi brutality and mistreatment of Egyptians.

Freed reported from Nicosia and Ross from Cairo.