BAGHDAD, Iraq – The man in charge of Iraq’s police and security services on Thursday dismissed accusations that Sunni Arab clerics are being assassinated by a Shiite militia in which he played a leading role.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr told the Associated Press in an interview that more mosques and clerics from the Shiite majority have been attacked than those belonging to the Sunni minority.
Jabr is a top member of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the country’s largest Shiite Muslim party, and he served as a senior official in the party’s militia, the Badr Brigade, before joining Iraq’s first postwar Cabinet in 2003.
Asked about allegations against the brigade made by Sunni Arab clerics and repeated by lay Sunnis, Jabr said a police inquiry had produced nothing to suggest the Shiite militia was involved in killing clerics.
Rather, he said, militants captured by security forces have confessed to killing clerics from both sides in an effort to provoke sectarian strife.
Interviewed in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces in the heavily guarded Green Zone, Jabr said statistics he got from an Interior Ministry research center indicate more than 80 percent of the approximately 12,000 Iraqi civilians killed in the past 18 months were Shiites.
He acknowledged his findings weren’t precise, however. He said he figured the totals for Shiites and Sunnis by looking at which group was dominant in the areas where victims lived rather than having a religious identification for each individual.
“The number of Shiite clerics killed is several folds (higher than) the number of Sunni clerics (killed),” Jabr said without giving figures. “Scores of Shiite mosques have been bombed. Not a single Sunni mosque is known to have been bombed.”
In the latest fatality from seemingly tit-for-tat Shiite-Sunni attacks in recent weeks, a senior member of the Badr Brigade died Thursday of wounds suffered three days earlier in Baghdad. The death of Safwan Ali Farhan, also a cleric, was confirmed by his brother, Wasfi Ali Farhan, and Ridha Jawad Taqi, a senior official of the militia’s parent political party.
The killings have strained relations between the now dominant Shiite majority and Sunni Arabs, who ruled for decades until the 2003 ouster of Saddam, himself a Sunni. There are fears of sectarian strife, although leaders from both sides insist historical bonds between them are strong enough to prevent that.
The Shiite-led government has been reaching out to Sunni Arabs, naming several to key Cabinet posts and inviting Sunni leaders to appoint representatives to a parliamentary committee drafting an Iraqi constitution.
However, Jabr branded the fragmented insurgency as terrorist, suggesting he might be pushing a tougher line against rebels than some of his colleagues.
On Wednesday, a Shiite cleric leading the constitutional drafting process said the government is communicating indirectly with some insurgent factions in hopes of persuading them to disarm.
The disclosure by Hummam Hammoudi, a member of Jabr’s party, was confirmed by the government’s spokesman and a key Sunni Arab lawmaker. Both said the contacts did not include Islamic extremist groups like al Qaeda in Iraq, which are blamed for many of the deadliest attacks.
Jabr, however, was categorical in rejecting any differentiation.
“There’s no resistance in Iraq, but only terrorism,” he said when asked about the contacts. “As an interior minister, I deal with everyone who takes up arms and kill people on the land of Iraq as a terrorist.”
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