BAGHDAD, Iraq – Preachers in Iraq's mosques have heaped scorn on the American-run occupation every Friday for weeks, venting their anger and frustration from pulpits across the country.
On their final sermons under foreign rule, many delivered messages that remained anti-American but also looked to the future, condemning Thursday's bloodshed and calling for unity as Iraq prepares for sovereignty next week.
"We hope that after June 30 Iraqis will be united, loyal to their nation and not allow foreigners to interfere in their affairs," Sunni cleric Niema Hassan (search) told a congregation at the Grand Mosque in the southern city of Basra.
The violence Thursday, a string of coordinated attacks in several cities that killed about 100 Iraqis, figured in many sermons. The bloodshed drew condemnation — as well as suggestions that Americans, rather than Iraqis, should have been targeted.
"It makes me sad to see that all the victims yesterday were Iraqis," Sheik Ahmed Hassan al-Taha said at Baghdad's al-Azimiya mosque (search), Iraq's foremost Sunni place of worship.
Sheik Abdul-Ghafour al-Samarai, a member of the influential Sunni group the Association of Muslim Scholars (search), asked in a sermon in Baghdad's Umm al-Qura mosque: "What sort of religion condones the killing of a Muslim by another Muslim?"
"This is a conspiracy against the people of Iraq and Iraqi resistance," he said of Thursday's carnage. "We must unite and be heedful of those who want to drive a wedge among us under the cover of Islam."
The importance of Friday sermons has risen in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, reflecting the clergy's dominant role in the country. Views aired in the sermons reflect the national mood at a time when Iraq is undergoing turmoil and is beset by uncertainty.
The anti-U.S. content of the Friday sermons also underlines the failure of the United States to win the goodwill of most Iraqis, despite the United States' ridding the country of Saddam's dictatorship.
"American soldiers are infidels," said Youssef Khodeir, a Sunni sheik and imam of the Saad Bani Moaz mosque in Baqouba, scene of the heaviest fighting Thursday. "The blood that is being shed every day is because we are not closing our ranks. The source of all power comes from adhering to the Quran."
The sermons also offered different scenarios for who might be behind Thursday's attacks, reflecting divisions among Iraq's main religious groups over the merits of armed resistance and over who is to blame for terror attacks that have claimed hundreds of Iraqi lives in the past year.
A terror network led by an Al Qaeda-linked Jordanian militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search), has claimed responsibility for Thursday's attacks.
Some preachers blamed "foreigners" or Iraqis implementing "evil American schemes." In a sermon at Imam Hussein mosque in the holy Shiite city of Karbala, Ahmed al-Safi blamed Baathists and Saddam loyalists for the violence.
In Sadr City, a sprawling Baghdad district that's home to some 2 million Shiites, a prayer leader loyal to militant cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (search) said Thursday's violence was designed to expose Iraqis as incapable of maintaining security after the occupation ends.
"Al-Zarqawi is a myth created by America," declared sheik Aous al-Khafaji to hundreds of worshippers in Sadr City, where U.S. troops and al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army militia have clashed for much of the past 2½ months.
Referring to Washington's declared aim that its 2003 war on Iraq was to bring democracy to the Arab nation, a Sunni imam, Mohammed Bashar, told worshippers in Mosul that what America really wanted was "the freedom to kill and arrest Iraqis."
In Basra, a preacher loyal to al-Sadr, Abdul-Rida al-Roueini, called on Iraq's interim government to step up its fight against terrorism. Another Shiite imam, Ali Sadiq, called for the building of "a new Iraq free of sedition and division."