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Demonstrators urge end to Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs in south

Ali Allak, Azzaman

August 20, 2006

Many Iraqis are wary of Tehran’s growing influence in southern Iraq and demonstrations are reported in several cities urging the authorities to take immediate measures to halt Iranian meddling.

Since the U.S. 2003 invasion, Iran has established a firm foot in the region, bolstering its allies and their militias with money and arms.

Iranian influence so conspicuous that in several cities such as Najaf, Kerbala and Basra Persian is steadily replacing Arabic as the official language.

Major Shiite political factions and their powerful militias are pro-Iran. So are several senior Shiite clerics, particularly those of Iranian origin.

But despite Tehran’s increasing influence, there are still many, among them a few high-ranking clergy, who now publicly show their discontent with the Iranian presence in the south.

Some of these clerics have large following in Baghdad and other southern cities and are apparently coordinating efforts to counter-balance the pro-Iran camp.

Their supporters went to the streets last week, accusing Iran of fomenting sectarian strife and using its agents to stifle opposition to its presence in the country.

One of the organizers, Abdulzahra al-Maamouri, said there was "an atmosphere of terror" in southern Iraq.

"We are always under threat. Iranian intelligence agents are in full control and would like everybody including clerics opposing them to shut up.

"But we are not going to remain silent. As followers of Arab Shiite clerics we insist on our identity as Arabs and would resist Persian influence," said Maamouri.

The demonstrations erupted when Iraqi police stormed the offices of cleric Mahmoud al-Hassani. The incident resulted in the killing or injury of at least 50 people.

Hassani is a leading figure in what has become to be known in Iraq as al-Hawza al-Natiqa (the vocal Shiite seminary) which consists mainly of clergy of Iraqi origin.

This college opposes the so-called silent Shiite seminary whose members are of foreign descent.

Police forces in southern Iraq, said to be infiltrated with pro-Iran elements, are accused of acting against Hassani on Iranian orders.

Hassani’s supporters are reported to have clashed with police in several southern cities among them Najaf, Kerbala and Basra.

They are demanding the immediate and unconditional release of 300 followers of Hassani who were arrested in what is seen as a campaign to crack down on members of the silent seminary.

:: Article nr. 25949 sent on 21-aug-2006 06:08 ECT


Link: www.azzaman.com/english/index.asp?fname=news%5C2006-08-20%5Ckurd4.htm

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