- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2003

BAGHDAD Shi'ite clerics in southern Iraq have begun installing their own people in key leadership positions, and some of them are voicing opposition to U.S. goals for the country.
"We refuse any contact with the occupying U.S. forces, and this has been at request of the religious leaders in the holy city of Najaf and the local people," said Sheik Abdel Mehdi Karbalai in Karbala.
Sheik Karbalai was appointed by Ayatollah Hussein Sistani, a leading Shi'ite cleric in Najaf, to bring law and order to the city and help the needy.
"It has been the wish of the religious leaders in the holy city of Najaf, from the day of the Saddam's fall, to take matters into their own hands," Sheik Karbalai said.
Shi'ite leaders in Najaf, about 120 miles south of Baghdad, have appointed their own city council and named people to provide security and basic needs to local residents.
In at least one city, Karbala, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, candidates contacted by U.S. forces have refused to be appointed, fearing opposition to any interim leaders seen as too close to the Americans.
The presence of 2 million Shi'ites at a pilgrimage in Iraq yesterday attested to the power and the potential of this majority community. Such religious ceremonies had been banned by dictator Saddam Hussein for the past 25 years.
Shi'ite Muslims, who compose more than 60 percent of Iraq's population, have traditionally held close ties with religious leaders in Karbala and Najaf, considered holy cities.
"The United States said it was coming to Iraq to liberate the people from the regime," said Sheik Adnan Shahmani, a spokesman for Moghtada Sadr, the son of Ayatollah Mohammed Sadegh Sadr, who was killed by Saddam's intelligence agents in 1999.
"Our acceptance of their future activities depends on whether they deviate from their stated goal," Sheik Shahmani said.
Ayatollah Sistani and the Sadr family are the leading active Shi'ite authorities in Iraq.
Ayatollah Mohammed Bagher Hakim and other Shi'ite clerics have been in exile in Iran. Seyyed Majid Khoei, the son of another Najaf-based ayatollah, was killed in a mosque this month by a mob. A handful of other religious authorities in Najaf have stayed out of politics.
In Basra, the second-largest Iraqi city and a Shi'ite stronghold, a representative from Mr. Sadr's office had a blunt message for the British forces, which are in control.
"We refuse any administration without public approval because you said you were coming to liberate the people and, instead, you are bringing power to some elements of former regime," said Sheik Sattar Abdel Bahadoli.
British and U.S. forces have admitted being in talks with former members of Saddam's Ba'ath Party to help restore law and order in cities after widespread looting.
But they maintain that the people with whom they have been in contact are lower-level, nonideological party members uninvolved in heinous acts by Saddam's regime.
"It may be that we have been in contact with some former members of the Ba'ath Party," said Lt. Col. David Harrington, a spokesman for the British forces in Basra.
"The Ba'ath Party has many members. Some were ideologues and power brokers. But many were in the party because they had to, in order to perform their jobs and offer community services. We don't want to paint everyone with the same brush," Col. Harrington said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sadr's family in Najaf has appointed Sheik Halim al-Fatlawi to run a district of Baghdad formerly known as Saddam City, but now known as Sadr City.
Mr. Fatlawi said he has had no contact with the new mayor, Mohammed Mohsen Zubeidi, nor has he sent an envoy to Mr. Zubeidi or the U.S. forces, or received an envoy from either. He, however, plans to continue to provide law and order and basic services to the district's residents without help from either parties.
At least one armed guard in the neighborhood said Mr. Fatlawi's mosque has organized an armed militia force of 5,000 to 6,000 to restore law and order in the area and respond only to orders from the mosque.
"We are not interested in using our guns against anyone," Mr. Fatlawi said. "If a ranking religious authority orders [the killing of U.S. forces] all the people in Iraq will follow the orders of their religious leaders in Najaf."



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