Al-Arab Blog - مدونة العرب
Iraq Sunni clerics urge release of detained women
BAGHDAD, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Sunni Muslim religious leaders demanded on Tuesday that U.S.-led forces release women detained in raids across Iraq, saying this was a key condition for their cooperation with the occupying powers.
At a meeting of Iraqi religious and ethnic leaders aimed at promoting unity and overcoming sectarian strife, the clerics said many Iraqi women were in U.S. detention after being arrested in the volatile Sunni areas around Baghdad.
"The Americans should realise that if they keep doing this the resistance will only get stronger and there will be more violence," Sunni cleric Mohammed Bashar al-Faydee told Reuters.
"A lot of these women belong to tribes, and tribal leaders want revenge. I heard about an American soldier who pulled the hair of a daughter of a tribal sheikh. Even that is a big deal."
Sunni leaders said they had held several fruitless meetings with U.S. officials on the fate of the women.
A U.S. military spokesman said he had no immediate information on the status of women detained in Iraq.
Canon Andrew White, special envoy to the Middle East of Britain's Archbishop of Canterbury, said the treatment of women was a key issue in winning the trust of Sunni Muslims. He said around 150 Iraqi women were in U.S. custody.
"What we are hearing is that this is actually one of the key crucial issues that will determine how this particular significant minority will relate to both the Governing Council, the provisional authority and to any transitional government," he said.
"It is already contributing to the resistance and the insurgents because people feel that one of their most fundamental human rights -- the respect of the women of their community -- has been seriously affected."
White helped coordinate Tuesday's meeting, working for months with Shi'ites, Sunnis and Christians to try to establish dialogue among Iraq's fractious religious and ethnic groups.
Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens, some in suits and others in traditional dress, gathered in a Baghdad hotel to launch the initiative, and vowed to work together.
"We must avoid sectarian strife and seek nationalism. We must seek religious tolerance," Sheikh Sattar Jaber Ahmed told the opening session.
White, who has been mediating between the U.S.-led administration and Iraqi religious and ethnic groups, said the occupying powers had been too slow in engaging religious leaders since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
"We do need to engage the religious leaders positively in the process of political change if we are going to take the masses with us," White told Reuters. "The challenge is, what impact can these people have on the street?"
Tensions are running high between Shi'ites and Sunnis, and among Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens ahead of the planned handover of sovereignty to an Iraqi government on June 30.
Disputes over how the government will be formed and how much autonomy Kurds will be given have fuelled sectarian and ethnic strife and led some to warn of the risk of civil war.
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Anti War - Anti Racism
Let the downFall of Sharon be end to Zionism
By the Late, great political cartoonist Mahmoud Kahil