Iraq Sunnis make US pullout top priority
* Establishing government is not high on Sunni agenda
BAGHDAD: Iraq’s influential Sunni Muslim Clerics’ Association said on Wednesday the country’s politicians should focus on having US troops withdrawn from Iraq, not on forming a parliament after last month’s elections.
“We believe the goal should not be the parliament, but rather it should be who can get the occupiers out of our country,” Sheikh Abdel Salam al-Kubaisi, a senior cleric in the association, told Reuters in an interview.
“It should be the real mission of all the Iraqis - Sunnis and Shias. Iraq now needs a united stance, and the real issue is who will stand against the occupiers, not who will get into the coming parliament.”
A religious Shia-led alliance captured 48 percent of the vote in the Jan. 30 National Assembly election and the 60-percent majority sect, long oppressed under Saddam Hussein, is now poised to gain unprecedented power.
The Muslim Clerics’ Association called for a boycott of the election, saying it should not take place as long as US troops remained in Iraq and while an insurgency, largely led by disaffected Sunnis, still gripped the country.
The minority Sunnis, privileged under Saddam, are now marginalised after not voting in the election. In some Sunni Arab areas, where the insurgency is strongest, only 2 percent of eligible voters turned up on polling day.
About 150,000 US troops are still stationed in Iraq after the 2002 invasion that toppled Saddam and are not expected to leave for months or years - until Iraqi forces are fully trained to take over the daunting task of national security.
The Clerics’ Association, which holds sway over many religious Sunnis, says the current interim government is heavily influenced by the United States. It says Iraqis should be looking for leaders that are loyal to the country.
They are pushing for a timeframe for US troops to withdraw from Iraq, but US authorities refuse to put any time limit on their presence, saying it is impossible to set dates for when Iraq may be safe enough for them to pull out.
The clerics are bitter over the interim government’s backing of actions such as the US military’s offensive on the former insurgent stronghold of Falluja, a Sunni city west of Baghdad. “I can’t believe that they attacked and destroyed Falluja because they wanted this,” said Kubaisi.
Shia politicians, wary of sectarian tensions as the country moves toward forming a new government, have stressed that Sunnis will play a role in the country’s new political landscape, despite their low turnout in the polls.
“Talks to pave the way to reach national reconciliation should be based on the principles we have mentioned that many parties should participate in it,” said Kubaisi. The 50-year-old cleric questioned Iraq’s political process, which will involve the drafting of a constitution and selecting a new government after decades of dictatorship. “This government is not legitimate because not all Iraqis chose it. So it should have no rights to make long term decisions,” he said. reuters