Clerics urge Iraqis to vote

Iraqi clerics have, in their Friday prayer sermons, urged worshippers to cast their votes in this week's election.

    Iraqis vote for the 275-member parliament on Thursday

    In Falluja, known as the City of Mosques and a one-time bastion of

    revolt against US forces, Sunni Muslim spiritual leaders

    made clear there would be no repeat of the boycott of January's

    election, which left their sect marginalised. 

    In the Shia city of Najaf, preachers reminded the

    faithful that only voting on Thursday would ensure that the

    long-oppressed community would retain the upper hand. 

    Across the sectarian divide there was hope the parliament,

    the first fully empowered body since US forces overthrew

    Saddam Hussein nearly three years ago, may finally mean the

    departure of those troops.

    Some clerics appealed for the release of Western hostages, including

    four - two Canadians, a Briton and an American - whose kidnappers

    have threatened to kill them on Saturday unless all prisoners

    are freed from Iraqi jails. 

    Others urged Iraqis to forget the trial of Saddam

    and concentrate on the election issues at

    hand - the economy, public services, sectarianism and the

    state's fight against violence.

    Religious duty

    Some clerics infused their sermons with messages of support

    for specific parties and lists - some subtle, others less so.

    But most simply urged Iraqis to cast their ballot, some as a

    religious duty.

    "You must not vote for your tribal leaders or preachers,

    whom you very well know.

    You should vote for lists which consist of people from

    various sects - Shia, Sunnis, Kurds and Christians"

    Shaikh Abd al-Sattar Athaab,
    Sunni cleric

    "Consider my words as a fatwa," Shaikh Abd al-Sattar Athaab

    told more than 1000 worshippers at the Raqeeb mosque in Falluja,

    where US troops crushed a Sunni uprising in November 2004.

    "Those who disobey it will be held to account under Islam.

    First, you must participate in the elections. Second, you

    have to vote for a list which really represents the people," he said.

    Sunni leaders urged supporters to vote in force to allow their once dominant

    community to punch at its full weight in the 275-seat

    parliament.

    Less than a year ago, Falluja was a ghost town on election

    day on 30 January as those of its population not displaced by the

    fighting had boycotted the polls - partly

    out of anger at the group's lost influence with Saddam's fall,

    and partly out of fear of reprisals by fighters.

    "You must not vote for your tribal leaders or preachers,

    whom you very well know," Athaab said. 

    "You should vote for lists which consist of people from

    various sects - Shia, Sunnis, Kurds and Christians."

    Support for Allawi

    That appeared to be a veiled pledge of support for former interim prime

    minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shia whose cross-sectarian

    coalition is posing a threat to the Shia Islamist-dominated

    government.

    Worshippers were urged to get
    out and vote

    The support is remarkable considering Allawi oversaw the assault

    on Falluja, but it is in line with the support he has won from Sunnis for

    his tough line on violence, especially by pro-government militias.

    In Najaf,

    one imam called for a

    peaceful final campaign week.

    "We're against mutual accusations and against violations of

    the electoral process," said Shaikh Sadr al-Din al-Qabanji, a

    prominent member of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), most powerful of the parties in the

    Shia bloc which won a majority at January's election. 

    He cited voting as "a way to liberate Iraq from the

    occupation" and also hinted that Shia - marginalised under Saddam - were

    in no mood to see their current power diluted. 

    Hostage release urged

    Besides the election, influential Sunni cleric Shaikh Ahmed

    al-Samaraie

    used

    his sermon to call for the release of the Western hostages.

    "I ask those who have an influence ... to release these

    hostages. I understand they are in the hands of one of the

    groups that are defending Iraq and Islam," he

    said at the Abu Hanifa mosque, one of

    main Sunni places of worship in Baghdad. 

    "We don't want to lose people while we are in misery."

    SOURCE: Reuters


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