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By Safa Haeri
Posted Friday, April 30, 2004

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PARIS 30 Apr. (IPS) The United States agreed to withdraw their forces from Falluja, the Iraqi Sunni-dominated city now becoming the symbol of Iraqi resistance to the “occupation” forces. As a result senior Iraqi clerics, including Ayatollah Kazem Ha’eri, have signalled their separation from the hard line positions taken by Hojjatoleslam Moqtada Sadr, the young Iraqi Shiá cleric who has declared war on American forces.

Officially, almost all Iraqi political parties and religious circles have welcomed the American decision, but informed sources said, speaking privately, that some senior Shi’a, and moderate Sunni clerics have expressed concern, fearing that the decision to evacuate Falluja would encourage other hard line mullahs, mostly Moqtada, to emulate and create a “new Falluja” in other parts of the war-ravaged nation.

According to Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Ha’eri, the younger brother of Ayatollah Kazem, Moqtada “has no right” to declare jihad, or holy war against the Coalition forces in the name of Mr. Ha’eri.

Speaking to the French news Agency AFP, Mohammad Hussein, who is living in Iran and is considered as the official spokesman for his brother, has declined to confirm if Mr. Moqtada Sadr is representing Ayatollah Ha’eri, as he claims.

In recent declarations, Mr Moqtada Sadr, who is now hiding in the holy city of Najaf at the head of the 2 000 to 4 000 strong men Mahdi Army, has reiterated that he is the official representative of Ayatollah Kazem Ha’eri and has declared holly war on American forces.

Mr. Mohammad Hussein Ha’eri rejected the claims and said that not only Moqtada has no right to declare holly war, but also none of the high-ranking Iraqi clerics, Shi’a or Sunni, have pronounced such a fatwa, or religious edict.

Informed Iranian sources said that Thehran has realised the dangers a turbulent and uncontrollable man like Moqtada can present for Iranian policy in Iraq. Tehran has decided to abandon him and has urged all the parties over which it has substantial influence to do so.

The “honey moon” between Moqtada Sadr and the Islamic Republic of Iran started several months ago after the young Iraqi cleric, known for his fierce anti-Iranian positions, was invited to Tehran, where he met most of the important Iranian rulers. This included Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who now is the Head of the Expediency Council, an influential decision-making body that works as a supra-governmental institution controlled by the conservatives, Ayatollah Ha’eri and some commanders of the Revolutionary Guards involved in Iraq.

“Moqtada left Tehran pockets full of money and arms against the promise to turn Iraq into a hell for the occupation forces, but mostly the Americans”, informed sources said. They added that in order to give him enough religious weight he became the representative of the hard line Ayatollah Ha’eri who, in earlier statements, had taken strong anti-American position and had called on the Iraqi people to stand up to the “American and Jews infidels trying to grab the land of Islam and its wealth”. ENDS IRAQ SADR 30404


With a picture of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr seen in the background, Iraqi men celbrate after attending Friday prayers in Kufa, outside the holy city of Najaf, Iraq, Friday, April 30, 2004. Talks were under way Friday between Najaf police and tribal leaders on a proposal under which al-Sadr followers would hand over security to the Najaf police and Sadr's Mahdi army would leave the city. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)


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