Iraq Troops Force Sunni Group from Mosque
Iraqi troops surrounded a Sunni mosque and gave its inhabitants three hours to evacuate.
Iraqi troops seized the west Baghdad headquarters of a powerful Sunni Muslim group Wednesday, cordoning off the building and ordering employees out, the group said.
Iraqi security forces dispatched by the Sunni Endowment, a government agency that cares for Sunni mosques and shrines, surrounded the mosque complex where the group is based at 9 a.m. and demanded that the building be evacuated before noon, the Association of Muslim Scholars said in a statement posted on its Web site. Employees of the association, a hardline Sunni clerics group with links to insurgents, were told to remove all personal belongings and even haul out furniture, that troops said would be destroyed if left behind, the statement said.
The group’s headquarters are located in the Um al-Qura mosque in the capital’s Sunni-dominated Ghazaliyhah neighborhood. The group also operates a radio station from the mosque, and its transmission was cut as well, the statement said. The final sounds on the air were of an announcer apologizing to listeners and telling them he was being forced out of the building, the group said.
An official at the Sunni Endowment could not confirm the raid, but said the government had plans to renovate the Um al-Qura mosque, which sits on government property. “We have nothing against the association … and its members, but we have plans to renovate the mosque and construct more buildings inside,” the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media. “However, this matter has been seen by the association as a threat to their existence in the mosque,” the official said.
I don’t know the backstory here, so perhaps there’s more to this than meets the eye. Otherwise, however, this is an incredibly hamhanded means of going about starting renovations and, certainly, not conducive to improving Sunni-Shiite relations.