Iraqi Sunni and Shiite clerics meet in Makkah to find common ground

Second meeting since 2006 when the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference invited Sunni and Shiite clerics to stop sectarian bloodshed

Iraqi Sunni and Shiite clerics on Wednesday met in Islam’s holiest city, Makkah, in an attempt to join ranks and denounce sectarianism.

Mohammed Al Issa, Secretary General of World Muslim League, which hosted the meeting, hailed the Iraqi government for its “wise leadership as it works tirelessly for the benefit of Iraq and its prosperity”.

“Great strides have been made by the Iraqi government in enhancing the national identity,” Mr Al Issa told a group of religious figures from both sects in his opening remarks.

“We stated this before and will continue to do so: there is nothing between Sunnis and Shiites except brotherly understanding, coexistence, co-operation and integration,” he said.

He urged them to respect each other's teaching in the context of Islam, warning of the “dangerous consequences” sectarian practices would have on the religion and the country.

Although the participants are not considered among the country’s senior clerics in the two communities and do not have much political influence in Iraq, the meeting could be a step forward in bridging the gap between the two sects.

Nearly two years after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, Iraq plunged into sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shiites.

In 2004, Al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremist groups declared a war against Shiites that led to attacks, including the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine north of Baghdad in 2006.

That attack led to a bloody civil war, even as the country fought a Sunni-lead insurgency.

Then, Shiite death squads chased Sunnis in Baghdad from 2006 to 2008, kidnapping, killing and dumping their bodies in the streets. Many neighbourhoods in the capitals became off limits to each sect.

That civil war stopped only after Shiite militia leader Moqtada Al Sadr announced a ceasefire along with a Sunni revolt against Al Qaeda amid a series of US-Iraqi offensives that helped to staunch the bloodshed.

But sectarianism is still a threat.

In June, a radical Shiite group called for a shrine of a revered Sunni cleric in Baghdad to be demolished, prompting fears of renewing sectarian tensions in Iraq.

Iraqi government stationed security forces around Abu Hanifa Al Numan shrine and mosque and none of the group followers showed up.

Wednesday's meeting in Makkah is the second since 2006 when the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference invited Sunni and Shiite clerics to stop the bloodshed. Both agreed on a peace initiative, but it did not bear fruit.

Updated: August 4th 2021, 3:18 PM
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