Sunni leader calls on Iraqis not to fight Al-Qaeda

October 10, 2007

BAGHDAD (AFP) -- Leading Iraqi Sunni cleric Harith al-Dhari has urged Iraqis not to join U.S. forces in fighting Al-Qaeda, arguing that by doing so they are siding with the occupier.

""A decision to stand beside the occupying enemy in order to achieve a wish to stay in Iraq under the pretext of destroying Al-Qaeda is neither accepted legally nor on patriotic or rational grounds,"" said Dhari, head of the influential Muslim Scholars' Association.
""We do not accept the acts of Al-Qaeda,"" Dhari said in an interview with Qatari-based television channel Al-Jazeera posted Tuesday on the website of the Muslim Scholars' Association, Iraq's main Sunni clerics' organization.
""We reject their ideas but Al-Qaeda remains part of us and we are part of it. Ninety percent of Al-Qaeda members are now Iraqis,"" he added. ""We can talk to them. We can reform them and God may bless them to resort to wisdom.""
Dhari is living in exile in Amman.
U.S. military commander Colonel Robert Menti estimates that around 50,000 Iraqis across the country have joined 150 different initiatives aimed at fighting Al-Qaeda.
Initiatives range from powerful tribal chiefs banding together to hunt down extremists to local programs in which volunteers with orange sashes and armed with AK-47s tip off police about suspicious activity or round up suspects.
Al-Qaeda has warned it will target those involved in the initiatives.
Last Thursday, a roadside bomb near Samarra killed the leader of the Salaheddin Awakening Council, Sheikh Maawia Naji Jebara. His killing was claimed by Al-Qaeda.
On Tuesday, another council member, Thamer Ibrahim Atallah, was targeted by a suicide truck bomber in Baiji, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Baghdad, but he survived the attack.