- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 28, 2005

BAGHDAD — Two of Iraq’s most influential Shi’ite and Sunni organizations agreed yesterday to try to ease sectarian tensions pushing the country toward civil war as the government prepared to take its battle against the insurgency to Baghdad’s streets.

The new effort to make peace came as attacks killed a U.S. soldier and at least 45 Iraqis over the past two days — including three suicide bombers and three men killed when a roadside bomb they planted exploded prematurely.

An al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, also announced the death of a Japanese contractor it abducted earlier this month.

Another group, Abu Musab Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq, purportedly claimed responsibility on the Internet for twin suicide car bombings in Sinjar. The attacks, 75 miles northwest of Mosul city, killed seven Iraqis and injured another 38 at the entrance to an Iraqi military base, according to hospital officials.

In another Internet message, al Qaeda in Iraq yesterday delivered a tirade against Shi’ites, accusing them of targeting Islam and especially Sunni Muslims in what appeared to be an attempt to stoke sectarian violence.

“There’s no mosque or honor that has been violated or Muslim who has been insulted in Iraq without the help of the (Shi’ites),” the statement, posted on an Islamic Web site, said.

It accused Iraq’s majority Shi’ites of aiding “the Jews,” apparently referring to U.S. troops and officials in Iraq. The mocking statement was purportedly posted by Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, a spokesman for the group. Its authenticity could not be verified.

Meanwhile, Iraqi police and army units prepared to launch a crackdown today in Baghdad that will include helping cordon off the city and erecting hundreds of checkpoints in and around the capital, according to defense and security officials. More than 40,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen, supported by U.S. troops, will deploy to the new checkpoints and later begin street-to-street sweeps.

They hope to catch or flush out the insurgents responsible for a wave of violence that has left more than 690 people dead since the country’s new Shi’ite-led government was announced April 28, according to an Associated Press count.

In an effort to mitigate escalating sectarian tensions, officials from the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, considered close to some insurgent groups, met with representatives from the Badr Brigades — the military wing of Iraq’s largest Shi’ite party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Organized by the anti-American Shi’ite cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr, the gathering aimed to smother accusations that began earlier this month when the association’s leader, Harith al-Dhari, accused the Badr Brigades of killing Sunnis and executing their clerics. A number of Shi’ite clerics were also killed.

The brigades not only denied the charges, they accused the Sunni association of failing to condemn the insurgency and of trying to “push Iraq into a sectarian conflict.”

“We are all Muslims, and usually problems happen between one family. We want to solve them on the basis of Islamic brotherhood,” said one association official, Isam Al Rawi.

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