CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Religious Tension in Iraq
Aired April 15, 2003 - 01:37 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: When the boot comes off a country's neck, all sorts of things can happen, and only some of them are good. All too often when the fear of a dictator fades, people start rediscovering their fear and their suspicion of one another.
Here is CNN's Nic Robertson.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Fearing factionalism will rob them of power in the new Iraq, thousands of Shia Muslims poured onto the streets of their holiest city, proclaiming unity.
"We came to deny these rumors that there is infighting among the Shiites," he says. "Are these rumors true?," he asked the crowd. "No," they reply.
This was his return, after 15 years exile in Syria, plunging into the charged atmosphere in Najaf, where the abrupt end of Saddam's repression of Iraqi's majority Shia community is triggering power plays among its leading clerics, intrigue no one wants to talk about.
(on camera): Am I right in what I said that there is tension there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. Now, I can't tell you, because I see somebody look to me and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) this is not good for you. Just I suggest that, this is good for you.
ROBERTSON: But I'm right. But I'm right, yes?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
ROBERTSON: I am right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think, yes. I am sure, not just acting. OK?
ROBERTSON (voice-over): Rumors mixing with fact, an explosive combination.
A few days ago, the leading Shiite cleric, Abdul Majid al-Khoei, returning from exile in London, was murdered here, with a colleague.
In this quiet house, a cleric describes the death in detail, denies rumors his faction was involved, but makes clear his movement, led by Mutada al-Sadar (ph), has the best rationale for dominance.
RIYAD AL-NOURI, SADAR FACTION SPOKESMAN (through translator): The Shiites are united behind al-Sadar (ph), because he's walking in the footsteps of his father. He is an Iraqi.
ROBERTSON: Others in this house, who say they are from different factions, emphasize the importance of Shia unity. All want a Shia religious leader running the country, and blame outsiders for dividing them.
FADEL AL SHARAA, SHIITE CLERIC (through translator): Americans are not honest with us. We don't know their true intentions. They are aligning themselves with one or two groups among the Shiites.
ROBERTSON: At the ornate Imam Ali shrine, the holiest place for the Shia, few doubt America's responsibility to provide security. And privately, several top Shia clerics feared talking frankly about the festering factional tensions, less they exacerbate the problem.
In this historic city, intrigue is nothing new for its residents. For the occupying U.S. troops, dealing with it will be.
Nic Robertson, CNN, Najaf, Iraq.
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