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Sunni-Shiite talks begin with spat over Iran, Iraq

by Faisal BaatoutMon Jan 22, 7:20 AM ET

A conference on inter-Islamic dialogue has gotten off to a heated start in Doha with a top Sunni cleric attacking Shiites and Iran over the continuing sectarian violence in war-torn Iraq.

Sheikh Yussef Qardawi accused Shiites in Iraq and neighbouring Iran of harbouring militias that kill and displace Sunni Arabs in Iraq, which is wracked by sectarian killings that claim scores of lives daily.

"The Sunnis are being driven out of their regions. And now they (militias) are trying to rid Baghdad of Sunnis. We should not remain silent," he told the opening session of a conference on dialogue between Islamic schools of thought.

"Death squads and militas are killing people in their own homes... They should be disowned by the Shiites," he said.

Qardawi, who heads the international federation of Muslim scholars, said he had called upon Shiite religious leaders in Iraq and Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to intervene to stop the killings.

"Iran has influence in Iraq. It can stop this sedition and put out a fire that could destroy everything," he said in a clear criticism of Tehran over its role in Iraq.

The Egyptian cleric, who also holds Qatari nationality, condemned what he described as "attempts to covert (Sunnis) into Shiism" in countries that are predominantly Sunni.

"It is not permissible for a sect to try to spread in a country that is dominated by the other sect," he said.

"What benefit do you get if you enter a Sunni country like Egypt, Sudan, Morocco or Algeria... and try to convert people into the Shiite sect?" he asked.

"You may attract a hundred or two, but you will be sowing sedition in the country and the people there will hate and curse you," he added, citing talks he held with leading Iranian scholar Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Taskhiri.

But Taskhiri, who was also present at the opening session, blamed the escalating tension between Sunnis and Shiites on the "real enemy" of both, an allusion to Israel and the United States.

"There is a cunning plot to turn Muslims away from their real enemy to an illusive one... the Islamic Republic of Iran," said Taskhiri, who heads Iran's World Forum for Enhancing Relations Among Islamic Schools of Thought.

"Muslims forget Israel and the dangers of colonialism, while Sunnis perceive the Shiites -- and vice versa -- as the biggest challenge... tearing the body of this (Islamic) nation into pieces," he added.

Tashkiri accused Israel of stoking the escalating Sunni-Shiite tension in Iraq and Lebanon, claiming that the "enemy is exploiting normal scholarly differences."

Predominantly Shiite Iran has been accused of backing Shiite militias in Iraq that are believed to be behind daily killings and kidnappings of Sunni Arabs.

Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement, currently leading an opposition campaign against the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, is also accused of being remote-controlled by Tehran.

Other delegates at the Doha forum warned against political differences fueling communal conflict.

"We should avoid differences between schools of thought which are being exploited for political purposes," Qatar's deputy premier Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah said.

"The facts show that the wedge being driven (between Muslim sects) is political and has nothing to do with religion."

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