Sunni Shi’te Divide Grows

Iraqi PM fires senior Sunni Arab official

Wed 21 Feb 2007 9:30 AM ET

(Adds statement from Sunni Endowment)

BAGHDAD, Feb 21 (Reuters) – The head of a state body that runs Iraq’s Sunni Muslim religious sites said on Wednesday he was fired for criticising the government, including its handling of charges by a Sunni woman that she was raped by police.

The government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite Islamist, said Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarrai would be replaced as the head of the Sunni Endowment, a public institution similar to a ministry which manages Sunni mosques and other sites.

Samarrai said by telephone from Jordan that he believed he was fired because of his frequent criticism of the government.

“I think it is because I’m always rejecting most of the decisions made by this government,” he said.

“Also we kept on rejecting the role of the militias and their role in killing Iraqis. We hold the government and the prime minister responsible for all these actions but he seems to be unable to take responsibility.”

A government statement gave no reason for the decision, which comes at a time of heightened sectarian tension and violence between majority Shi’ites and Sunni Arabs.

Samarrai said most recently he had criticised the government’s handling of a case this week in which a Sunni Arab woman said she was raped by Iraqi policemen.

Maliki’s office has rejected the rape accusations against members of the Shi’ite-dominated police, saying “known parties” are trying to discredit a new security crackdown in Baghdad that aims to sweep Sunni Arab and Shi’ite gunmen from the streets.

Asked about Samarrai’s comments, an official in Maliki’s office declined to give more information.

The Sunni Endowment said in a statement it was suspending its operations in protest at the decision.

Maliki has vowed to take a balanced approach in tackling both Shi’ite militias and Sunni Arab insurgents.

U.S. commanders say previous crackdowns failed because they focused largely on Sunni militants while doing little to tackle Shi’ite militias, identified by Washington as the greatest threat to security in Iraq.

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