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Shiite Party Praises Militia Hated by Sunni Arabs

June 09, 2005|Ashraf Khalil | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — One of Iraq's largest Shiite political parties staged a vivid show of support Wednesday for an affiliated militia, a group hated and feared by many Sunni Arabs who accuse it of carrying out assassinations.

The public backing for the Badr Organization is likely to stir sectarian tension and complicate efforts to bring leery Sunnis into the new government.

A who's who of Shiite and Kurdish leaders publicly praised the Badr Organization at a high-profile Baghdad conference.

Abdelaziz Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, and a former Badr commander, praised the organization for "facing the brutal regime of Saddam" Hussein and paid homage to the "thousands of losses and many sacrifices" suffered during years of guerrilla war against Hussein's government.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, told the audience, "I want you to remember that you and your brothers were the ones who liberated Iraq."

Hakim, in turn, praised the sacrifices of the Kurdish peshmerga militias, saying, "We should make use of all of those forces to protect Iraq today."

For many Sunni Arabs, whose ranks fuel the insurgency, the Badr militia is symbolic of the excesses of the country's newly emboldened Shiite leadership. Last month the head of the Muslim Scholars Assn., a conservative Sunni group, accused Badr forces of assassinating Sunni religious leaders and former officials of Hussein's Baath Party.

Formerly known as the Badr Brigade, the group served for decades as SCIRI's armed wing operating from Iran.

Returning after the U.S.-led toppling of Hussein, the group renamed itself the Badr Organization and claimed a transformation into an independent political entity.

However, Badr never publicly turned over most of its weapons, and its independence from SCIRI is debatable.

In continuing violence Wednesday, attacks killed nine Iraqis and a roadside bomb killed a U.S. soldier south of Tikrit, Associated Press reported.

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