Hold line against threats, Iraqi Shiite leader urges

He reacts to memo calling for violent campaign of displacement


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A day after the release of a memo attributed to al-Qaida in Iraq that described a violent campaign to displace Shiite Muslims from many parts of the country, one of the most influential Shiite religious leaders used his sermon yesterday to urge the faithful to hold their ground.

"I demand first the government and second the brothers to keep their places," said Sheik Jalaluddin Saghir, leader of the capital's largest and most powerful Shiite house of worship, the Bratha Mosque.

"We should not let the terrorists do that," the outspoken sheik said in response to a memo that the U.S. military said it captured from an al-Qaida hide-out in Iraq. "We should help families in finding a way to stay in their places."

Although the memo could not be confirmed independently, it echoed earlier instructions attributed to insurgency leaders who are fighting the establishment of a stable central government.

The memo called on insurgents to "displace the Shiites and displace their shops and businesses from our areas."

The memo said Baghdad should be one area of focus for the attacks. It told insurgents to cast a broad net, urging a "cleansing" of "any person suspected of being susceptible for spying against us."

The outspoken Saghir, a member of parliament who promotes his positions by distributing DVDs of his sermons at Friday prayers, blamed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, for such extreme sentiments. He called al-Zarqawi "an exceptional criminal who hurts all Iraqis."

A day earlier, the U.S. military tried to discredit the al-Qaida boss by showing him apparently struggling to fire a machine gun and looking less than gallant in a dark sweat suit and white running shoes.

Three U.S. soldiers were killed yesterday when a roadside bomb ripped into their armored vehicle south of the capital. It was the second such deadly attack on U.S. forces in two days. A bomb set off in Baghdad on Thursday killed two soldiers.

The bombing yesterday occurred in late morning along the highway connecting Babil province with Baghdad, about 60 miles to the north. Iraqi security forces said at least two other Americans inside the Humvee were wounded. The vehicle caught fire after the explosion.

Elsewhere, U.S. troops came under attack on the outskirts of Fallujah and in Samarra. Returning fire, they killed at least five Iraqis and wounded several others, Iraqi security officials said.

Shiite militias and loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated Baath Party have been blamed for much of the violence, but an Iraqi leader spread the blame wider.

Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, who is blamed for allowing security forces under his command to carry out sectarian attacks, suggested that private security workers operating outside the control of the government might be at the root of the attacks.

Speaking on Al-Arabiya cable television late Thursday, Jabr said that the security companies and their estimated 200,000 employees have created an unchecked source of firepower in a nation bristling with antagonism and weapons.

At other mosques yesterday, Shiite and Sunni religious leaders called for an end to retaliation killings.

Sheik Sadraldeen Qabanchi, the Friday prayer leader at the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf who is close to Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said militias should cease their activities.

James Rainey writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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