Turkey to bring Iraqi Shiite, Sunni groups together in Istanbul
By Tousif Khan - Wed Feb 01, 3:59 pm
Turkey is planning to bring leading figures from Iraq’s divided Sunni and Shiite communities together in ?stanbul in late February to ease increasingly escalating sectarian tensions in the war-torn country amid its worst political crisis since the US invasion in 2003.
Last month the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc banned lawmakers and government ministers from parliament and Cabinet sessions after the Shiite-led government issued an arrest warrant for Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi on terrorism charges. The boycott brought the government to a standstill and plunged the country into a political crisis just days after the US completed its military withdrawal in mid-December. The sectarian political fight has been accompanied by a surge in violence, killing more than 300 people since then and raising fears of a civil war.
Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a leading Shiite cleric, has already agreed to send his representative, who will be presiding over Shiite clerics. Turkey will be moderating the conference, during which Sunnis and Shiites will work out ways to bury hostilities.
Turkey’s message will be delivered by Religious Affairs Directorate head Mehmet Görmez. Turkey will also call on all groups to assume responsibility for ending violence in the country. Al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups are thought to be exploiting sectarian tensions in the wake of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s efforts to marginalize the Sunni minority and cement his own grip on power.