Shiite Muslim religious leaders ratcheted up their rhetoric against the U.S. during Friday prayers amid ongoing sectarian violence and faltering talks over the creation of a new Iraqi government.
One leading Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Mohammed Yacoubi, called on Washington to remove U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is perceived by some Shiites as biased in favor of Kurds, Sunni Arabs and secular Iraqis.
The United States “should not yield to terrorist blackmail and should not be deluded or misled by spiteful sectarians,” he said in a statement read at mosques, according to the Reuters news agency. “It should replace its ambassador to Iraq if it wants to protect itself from further failures.”
The occasionally vitriolic anti-American sermons, many delivered by clerics close to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr, were the latest sign of souring relations between U.S. political and military leaders and the country’s majority sect, which initially welcomed the U.S. effort to topple the Sunni-led regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Shiite political parties, many of them with religious and family ties to powerful clerical clans in shrine cities in Iran as well as Iraq, have been angered by U.S. efforts to broker a compromise between Iraq’s squabbling political blocs.
Kurds, Sunni Arabs and a secular coalition led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi oppose the Shiite nomination of interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari for a full term in office. This week a Shiite politician leaked word that President Bush had sent a message through Khalilzad that he, too, opposed Jafari’s candidacy, a move that angered Shiite leaders.
Khalilzad, speaking to a group of Iraqi women Friday inside the tightly secured Green Zone, took his own swipe at Iraqi politicians.
“Iraq is bleeding while they are moving at a very slow pace,” he said, according to a transcript provided by the U.S. Embassy.
Shiite religious leaders throughout the country also condemned a U.S.-Iraqi raid on a Shiite house of worship in northern Baghdad on Sunday that left at least 16 dead.
“This grisly crime was committed by the occupier and its mercenaries,” prayer leader Mohammed Tabatabai told worshipers in Sadr City, a Shiite slum in Baghdad. “America is taking on the role of pharaoh to the world. America came to kill the believers.”
Other Shiite leaders called on the Iraqi government to stop sectarian attacks on Shiite villagers in the countryside. The International Organization for Migration, a multinational group that helps refugees, estimates that at least 4,000 families throughout the country have been displaced by sectarian violence or fear.
In Basra, Sheik Abdul Karim Ghizzi demanded that the government help Shiite victims. “We condemn and denounce the disastrous security situation in the country,” he told worshipers.
Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, once viewed as the primary perpetrators of ethnic violence, have increasingly become victims as shadowy groups with possible ties to official security organizations have launched a campaign of abduction and killing.
Authorities discovered at least five corpses Friday, at least three of them with handcuffs and signs of torture in what has become the signature of the death squads operating in religiously mixed provinces of central Iraq.
Commandos of the Shiite-led Interior Ministry as well as Iraqi soldiers were said to have arrested the husband of a Sunni legislator Thursday night.
“A large number of forces in 15 cars came in armored cars and ambulances,” Amal Siham Qadhi, a Sunni elected official, said Friday. “He was arrested without charges and without any warrant from a judge.”
At the Umm Qura Mosque, among the country’s most important Sunni houses of worship, Sheik Mahmoud Sumaidaie called for help from other Arab countries. He criticized leaders of countries such as Egypt who did not attend the recent Arab League summit in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, a forum that was to focus this year on the crisis in Iraq.
“Other nations have interests in Iraq, so they interfere,” Sumaidaie told worshipers in an unsubtle swipe at Shiite Iran. “They kill, detonate and plot while the Arab leaders are asleep at their summit.”
Insurgents killed at least three Iraqis in Baghdad on Friday as an 8 p.m. curfew went into effect. Rockets and mortar rounds struck several neighborhoods in the capital, killing two and injuring two. Insurgents killed a police officer in downtown Baghdad. Two car bombs in southern Baghdad injured six.
In the northern city of Bayji, relatives and friends of eight employees of an electricity generation plant who were killed Thursday set up funeral tents. The men were driving home from work when they were ambushed by gunmen, said Lt. Mohaned Ahmed of the Bayji police.
Times staff writers and special correspondents in Baghdad, Basra and Samarra contributed to this report.