Top Shiite Cleric in Iraq Urges Peaceful Resistance

Published September 05, 2003

| FoxNews.com

A prominent Shiite cleric in Iraq said Friday that his community was running out of patience with the country's volatile situation, and called for peaceful resistance to the U.S. occupation.

The senior cleric, Imam Sadreddine al-Qobanji, said if those efforts failed, Shiites would resort to other ways of dealing with the situation.

"Once we find that this road (peaceful resistance) has come to a dead end, we will adopt other means," al-Qobanji told the crowd of 15,000 who jammed the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf (search), Iraq's holiest Shiite Muslim (search) shrine and the site of a deadly bombing last week.

Also on Friday, in northeastern Baghdad, gunmen opened fire on Sunni Muslim (search) worshippers at a mosque just after dawn prayers.

Three men got out of a pickup truck near the Quiba mosque (search) and opened fire with Kalashnikov rifles at about 4:30 a.m., according to Walid al-Azari, the mosque cleric.  Three congregants were injured.

"They wanted to harm the unity of Islam," al-Azari said.

Al-Qobanji also spoke of attempts to rattle unity, saying last week's bombing outside the Imam Ali mosque — which killed a well-known Shiite cleric and dozens of other people — was aimed at dividing Iraqis and shattering restorative efforts in the country.

"Those who killed al-Hakim were hoping we would collapse," said al-Qobanji, who had been al-Hakim's deputy. "They wanted to sow discord among us. They wanted to force a change in our path. We tell them we will not collapse, there will be no discord and there will be no change in the path."

Al-Qobanji urged more support for the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of al-Hakim's Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. U.S. troops ordered the brigade disarmed and disbanded early in the occupation.

"The Badr Brigade must continue to exist and thrive. They must be supported and recognized," al-Qobanji said to chants of "We are all Badr Brigade."

Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a member of Iraq's U.S.-picked Governing Council, has taken over his slain brother's leadership position in the Supreme Council and also leads the Badr Brigade. He was expected to deliver Friday's sermon but didn't show up out of security concerns and health problems, so al-Qobanji spoke instead.

Earlier Friday, the 82nd Airborne Division raided the home of a prominent former Baath Party member who has terrorized the region as a crime organization boss since the fall of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

Fox News' Mike Tobin, embedded with the 82nd Airborne, was with U.S. forces on the raid of the house — in which the mob leader surrendered without a fight. His two sons were also arrested; all three were taken into custody.

In his house were found a cache of weapons, a Baath Party certificate, several stacks of cash, photographs of the mob leader with Saddam Hussein and stolen bags of rice and beans sent by the U.S. for Iraqi citizens.

In other news, U.S.-based government contractor Halliburton said a civilian employee of its subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root was shot and killed in Iraq on Wednesday, the Coalition Press Information Center (search) confirmed Friday.

The employee was assigned to a team supporting Army mail delivery, said Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall.

Another American employed by KBR was killed Aug. 5 when a remote-control bomb exploded under the truck he was driving north of Tikrit (search).

Halliburton, the oil field-services and construction company formerly led by Vice President Dick Cheney, has major contracts for reconstruction in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

At U.N. headquarters in New York Friday, all 15 members of the U.N. Security Council were to hold informal talks on the U.S. draft resolution asking to broaden international involvement in Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the proposal would put the council "into the game."

Meanwhile, the hunt continued for Saddam.

Major Gen. Gray Odierno, commander of American troops in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, said Friday that the dictator probably was hiding in the area, since troops from the 4th Infantry Division had captured several of his former bodyguards in the past month.

"If he makes a mistake, we'll have him," Odierno said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was in Tikrit and Mosul Friday visiting troops of the 4th Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne Division, respectively.

Rumsfeld said Thursday that the U.S. military was "looking at ways of accelerating" the process of bringing former members of Saddam's military — and possibly his security services — into the Iraqi security forces.

Rumsfeld thanked U.S. troops for bringing freedom to Iraq and warning that more hardships remain.

"You searched your souls and decided you wanted to serve your country," he said to the soldiers.

Local officials in Mosul asked Rumsfeld for help in several areas, including increasing the supply of diesel fuel, and speeding up the privatization of local businesses.

Rumsfeld replied that he agreed privatization was a good idea for Iraq's ailing economy.

"This country has decades of doing things exactly the wrong way — nationally governmentally owned and nationally controlled," he said.

Rumsfeld also said he was optimistic about Iraq's future.

"I think we have the formula here for success," Rumsfeld said. "A lot of things have been accomplished. It's not going to be a straight steady path. In the future there will be difficulties."

In Baghdad Thursday, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez , the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said more international troops were needed to stave off threats ranging from Al Qaeda terrorists to brewing ethnic and religious conflicts.

Sanchez said he had enough soldiers to accomplish the mission given to him by Washington, but more international forces were needed to guard Iraq's porous borders, its thousands of miles of highways, and the full length of Iraq's oil pipeline.

He warned that international forces were needed to reinforce existing coalition forces in tackling looming security threats, such as Iranian fighters or possible conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites.

"If a militia or an internal conflict of some nature were to erupt ... that would be an additional security challenge out there that I do not have sufficient forces for," Sanchez said.

Rumsfeld echoed the words of Sanchez and Iraq's U.S. civilian administrator, L. Paul Bremer, who say the key to solving Iraq's problems was building up Iraqi security forces, not adding more U.S. soldiers.

In Washington, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said more international troops would be welcome to counter the impression among Iraqis that the occupation was strictly an American operation.

"This has an awful lot to do with the Iraqi people and how they perceive coalition forces. I think the last thing we want is for them to believe this is a mission of the United States. It's much bigger than that," Myers said.

The Bush administration has been pushing a new U.N. resolution aimed at persuading more nations to contribute troops. Russia gave its first signal Thursday that it could send peacekeepers to Iraq, and Britain said it was considering whether to increase its force levels.

Germany and France — which opposed the war — said they were willing to work with the United States to reach agreement on the resolution.

France's foreign minister told a Paris newspaper that his country "absolutely" intended to cooperate to reach a consensus. Germany, meanwhile, welcomed a U.S. offer to listen to suggestions for changes in the draft.

Rumsfeld estimated that other countries could provide "maybe another division" in Iraq, or about 10,000 troops. There are now about 140,000 U.S. troops and about an additional 20,500 from 29 other countries, including Britain.

The newly named Iraqi foreign minister said no troops should be used from any of Iraq's neighbors.

"They may carry with them their own political agenda that may lead to tension and destabilization," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told The Associated Press.

Fox News' Mike Tobin, Catherine Donaldson-Evans and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

URL

http://www.foxnews.com/story/2003/09/05/top-shiite-cleric-in-iraq-urges-peaceful-resistance