Saturday, May 3, 2008

Iraq's Shiite clerics deeply divided on militia crackdown

BAGHDAD (AP) — Shiite clerics offered sharply different visions Friday in the showdown between government forces and Shiite militias — one predicting that armed groups will be crushed in Baghdad and another calling for the prime minister to be prosecuted for crimes against his people.

The contrasting views — given during weekly sermons — showed the complexities and risks in the five-week-old crackdown on Shiite militia factions. The clashes have brought deep rifts among Iraq's Shiite majority and have pulled U.S. troops into difficult urban combat in the main militia stronghold in Baghdad.

But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, shows no indication of easing the pressure on groups including the powerful Mahdi Army led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

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