January 20, 2007 / 7:22 PM / in 12 years

Sunni cleric urges Iran to help stop Iraq violence

DOHA (Reuters) - A prominent Sunni Muslim cleric urged Shi’ite Iran on Saturday to do more to halt the sectarian violence that many fear is dragging Iraq into civil war.

“There is no doubt that Iran has power and influence (in Iraq)...and can stop this turmoil and put out this fire...before it is too late,” Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi told senior Muslim clerics and officials meeting in Qatar to launch a dialogue between Sunnis and Shi’ites.

“The power which is hostile to Islam...is plotting to divide this nation along ethnic, denominational and territorial lines,” said Qaradawi, a Qatar-based Egyptian cleric. He did not specify the power in question.

Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Taskhiri, who heads an Iranian body that seeks to unify followers of Islam’s various branches, accused the United States and Israel of fuelling sectarian divisions in Iraq and Lebanon.

“The enemy’s exploitation of the natural differences of opinion between Shi’ites and Sunnis...represents a response to September 11,” Taskhiri said, referring to the attacks in the United States by militants of al Qaeda.

Iranian officials often accuse the United States of stoking sectarian tension in Iraq where most people are Shi’ites, like most Iranians. Washington accuses Iran of contributing to the violence in Iraq.

The three-day forum in the Qatari capital Doha has drawn more than 200 delegates from over 40 countries including Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, head of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, and Egypt’s Religious Endowments Minister Mahmoud Hamdi Zakzouk.

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