Iraqis Find Rare Unity in Condemning Israel

Times Staff Writer

Though embroiled in a bloody war over the future shape and identity of their country, Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, Shiites, Kurds and even Christians have unified in condemning Israel over its fighting in Lebanon against the Hezbollah militia.

Condemnation of Israel’s actions in Lebanon and of the United States as the Jewish state’s backer has emerged as a rare bridge issue, cutting across political, ethnic and religious lines.

Demonstrators loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr marched through the city center of Najaf on Sunday evening in support of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, chanting “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!”


Across the city, more moderate Shiite clerics loyal to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani issued a statement urging support for the Islamist militia in Lebanon and condemning the U.S. and Israel.

“The enemy is the same,” said a statement issued by the Hawza, the network of seminaries in Najaf. “Their aim is to enslave and humiliate us. What’s happening today in Lebanon is part of a bigger scheme to crush the blessed [Islamic] nation.”

Vice President Tariq Hashimi, a Sunni Muslim Arab, expressed his “extreme concern over the Zionist aggression against” the Lebanese as well as Palestinians.

“Iraq’s stance has been known through history, and the issue of supporting Arabs and Muslims has never changed,” he said in a statement.

There were signs that the unconditional U.S. support for Israel’s offensive following Hezbollah’s cross-border raid resulting in the capture of two Israeli soldiers and the death of eight others was ratcheting up anti-American sentiment.

In a rambling round table with journalists, the Sunni Arab speaker of Iraq’s parliament, Mahmoud Mashadani, continued his frequent criticism of Israel, Jews, Zionism and the United States.

Saying that the U.S. seeks to control oil fields in southern Iraq, Mashadani added, “America didn’t come to the country for our sake. America came with a pure Zionist agenda.”

The Shiite-run Al Furat satellite television channel launched a nationwide initiative to raise funds for Lebanese humanitarian and reconstruction efforts. The channel has been flooded with pledges, with Iraqis living abroad also calling in to donate.

“The donors are coming from all sects,” said Ahmad Kadhim, a station spokesman. “Shiites, Sunnis and even Christians.”

Many of Iraq’s Shiite leaders share Hezbollah’s Shiite Islamist ideology as well as a history of political and clerical activism against the Middle East’s secular governments.

Meanwhile President Jalal Talabani, a secular pro-U.S. Kurd, pledged to donate 100 million Iraqi dinars (or about $68,000) of his personal wealth to help rebuild Lebanon and called upon Prime Minister Nouri Maliki to “demand the international community to work on an immediate cease-fire” during a trip to London and Washington.

Maliki and a delegation of Iraqi Cabinet officers and lawmakers arrived in London on Sunday, en route to a meeting with President Bush in Washington on Tuesday.

Some Shiites within Maliki’s coalition have demanded that he cancel the trip to protest U.S. support of Israel, but the prime minister refused, saying he would push the Lebanese cause in Washington.


Times staff writer Saif Hameed contributed to this report.