Sadr appeals for calm in Iraq

March 13, 2006 at 7:04 PM
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NAJAF, Iraq, March 13 (UPI) -- Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has appealed for calm among Iraqi Shiites following bomb attacks in Baghdad.

The latest wave of attacks killed about 50 people on Sunday.

Sadr said Iraq was now in a state of civil war, but he said he would order his Mahdi army militia not to respond, the Journal of Turkish Weekly reported Monday.

The bombings destroyed street markets in the slum district of Sadr City which is a stronghold of Sadr supporters, JTW said.

Sadr said U.S.-led forces were responsible for letting the attacks happen but the government should maintain security.

"Sunnis and Shias (Shiites) are not responsible for such acts, national unity is required," he told reporters at his headquarters in Najaf.

Iraq has been experiencing a surge in sectarian violence since a bomb attack on an important Shiite shrine in Samarra last month.

Sadr also criticised Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who had said last week that Iraqi troops, not U.S. forces, would intervene if civil war broke out in Iraq, JTW said.

"May God damn you," Sadr said of Rumsfeld. "You said in the past that civil war would break out if you were to withdraw, and now you say that in case of civil war you won't interfere."

Following Sunday's attacks, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in a statement: "The way in which this bloody act was conducted leaves us with no doubt that the terrorists have targeted this peaceful neighbourhood in order to ignite civil strife and stoke the fire of civil war."

He called on political parties to accelerate efforts to form a government, nearly three months after elections.

A BBC correspondent in Baghdad says Sunday's attacks were seen not only as a provocation against the Shiites, but also as a direct challenge to Sadr's militia, which has been playing a security role in coordination with Iraqi police.

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