The AP reports that Iraqi security forces have seized the Baghdad headquarters of a major Sunni Muslim religious group, accusing them of supporting Al Qaeda.
The Association of Muslim Scholars, a hard-line Sunni clerics group with links to insurgents, has its headquarters in the Um al-Qura mosque in the capital's Sunni-dominated Ghazaliyhah neighborhood.Sheik al-Samarraie was personally appointed to the Sunni Endowment by President Talibani - and has had previous run-ins with Prime Minister Maliki, who actually fired him when al-Samarraie called for an international investigation of the Iraqi police over rape allegations in February. Obviously, the firing attempt didn't stick. Still, the Sunni Endowment head has been a consistent Maliki critic so it's unlikely this is just another Shiite-controlled government Bash-a-Sunni scam. However, the Association are the Endowment's main rivals for Sunni attention - it could well be a turf fight using government authority as a cover. Lastly, it could be actually be a genuine operation against extremists enabling AQI. But in Iraq, it's usually best to look at possibile motives other than the published ones. The big question is - how will Baghdad's Sunnis view this incident? Will it further reconcilliation or just open yet another hindrance in the form of yet another faction fight?
Iraqi security forces dispatched by the Sunni Endowment, a government agency that cares for Sunni mosques and shrines, surrounded the mosque complex at 9 a.m. and demanded that the building be evacuated before noon, the association said in a statement posted on its Web site.
Employees were told to remove all personal belongings and even haul out furniture, that troops said would be destroyed if left behind, it said.
The group also operates a radio station from the mosque, and its transmission was cut as well, the statement said. The final sounds on the air were of an announcer apologizing to listeners and telling them he was being forced from the building, the group said.
The head of the Sunni Endowment held a news conference at the mosque later Wednesday, accusing the clerics' group of supporting al-Qaida.
"The Association of Muslim Scholars has regrettably been attacking any tribal awakening, resistance or worshippers whenever they form a force to purge their neighborhoods of al-Qaida elements. The association has always justified killing and assassinations carried out by al-Qaida," Ahmed Abdul-Ghafoor al-Samarraie, the Sunni Endowment chief, told reporters.
"The association no longer has a place here. ... These headquarters now belong to the Sunni Endowment," he said.
...A spokesman for the association, Mohammed Bahsar al-Faydhi, told The Associated Press that he believed the troops raiding the mosque were not government forces but al-Samarraie's personal guards.