- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2006

BAGHDAD — The Shi’ite-led Interior Ministry issued an arrest warrant yesterday for the top leader of the country’s Sunni minority — a move certain to inflame already raging sectarian violence in Iraq.

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, a Shi’ite, said Harith al-Dhari was wanted for inciting terrorism and violence among the Iraqi people. His message was carried on Al Iraqiya state television.

Mr. al-Dhari, head of the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, is an extreme hard-liner who recently mocked a government offer of reconciliation in return for abandoning the insurgency. But the move against him threatens to drive many moderate Sunnis out of the political system.

The warrant was issued on a day when at least 49 Iraqis were killed and the U.S. military announced the deaths of four American soldiers. Sunnis and Shi’ites could not agree on whether all hostages had been released from a mass kidnapping in Baghdad on Tuesday, and one man said he’d been beaten by the kidnappers.

Mohammed Bashar al-Faidi, spokesman for the Sunni association, condemned the warrant for Mr. al-Dhari’s arrest.

“This government should resign before the Iraqi people force it to resign,” Mr. al-Faidi said from Jordan. “The association calls on its people to be calm.”

Mr. al-Dhari regularly travels between Iraq and the Persian Gulf states, as well as Syria, Jordan and Egypt. He was thought to be in Jordan when the arrest warrant was issued last night.

Mr. al-Dhari is an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-dominated government and the U.S. occupation. On Tuesday, President Jalal Talabani called him a hard-liner with “nothing to do but incite sectarian and ethnic sedition.”

There is precedent for an arrest warrant leading to violence in Iraq.

In April 2004, a U.S. warrant against radical anti-American Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr prompted a two-week uprising by his Mahdi Army militia. Hundreds were killed.

The Mahdi Army was thought to be responsible for kidnapping scores of people from a Higher Education Ministry office building in Baghdad on Tuesday. The aftermath of that mass abduction has turned into a propaganda war.

Yesterday, the Sunni higher education minister called the Interior Ministry “a farce” for not preventing the crime and claimed more than half the 150 victims were still in the hands of Shi’ite abductors.

But National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie, a Shi’ite, said everyone had been freed and accused Arab satellite broadcasters and Western press of hostile reporting to incite sectarian hatred in Iraq.

Within hours, however, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, was amending that account, saying all the Higher Education Ministry employees were free but that others taken from the building were still hostages. He gave no numbers.

A Sunni who said he was among those abducted and released claimed the kidnappers broke his arm. He said he saw them kill at least three hostages after taking them to empty houses in Baghdad’s Sadr City Shi’ite slum, a stronghold of the Mahdi Army.

The man, who goes by the name Abu Kadhim, or father of Kadhim, would not allow use of his full name for fear of further trouble with the Mahdi Army. His story could not be independently confirmed.

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