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Al-Maliki: Sunni clerics must be behind Karbala clashes

Some Saudi clerics were tacitly criticized by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Friday for sharing responsibility for this week's clashes during a Shiite festival in Karbala.

Al-Maliki did not point the finger at the Saudi government but alluded to some hardline Wahhabist clerics in the kingdom who consider Shiite Muslims as infidels. He claimed their hostility contributed to clashes around the shrines of Imam Hussein and his half brother Imam Abbas in the central holy city of Karbala, which left up to 51 people dead.

"We don't need any proof or evidence because these establishments, with deep regret, issued fatwas (religious edicts) calling for the destruction of the shrines of Imam Hussein and Abbas," al-Maliki, a Shiite, said during a brief news conference. The two shrines are among the holiest sites to Shiites worldwide.

"When I speak about foreign intervention in this matter, we speak about organizations, gangs of fanatics and ignorant clerics who have said in the past that Shiites are infidels, meaning they permit killing them," he said.

In December, a top Saudi Arabian Sunni cleric, Abdul-Rahman al-Barak, declared Shiites around the world to be infidels who should be considered worse than Jews or Christians. The Wahhabi stream of Sunni Islam that is followed in Saudi Arabia is conservative and views Shiites as heretics.

Earlier that month about 30 prominent Saudi Wahhabi clerics called on Sunni Muslims around the Middle East to support their brethren in Iraq against Shiites and praised the anti-American insurgency.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia refused to receive al-Maliki during a tour that took him to several countries in the region.

In July, Iraq's national security adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie visited Saudi Arabia and said there that nearly half the foreign detainees held in Iraq are Saudi citizens. A week earlier, al-Rubaie said that the majority of the suicide bombers and "those who drive the vehicles to blow up our innocent civilians, Iraqis, are Saudis."

Sectarian killings between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq has blamed the lives of thousands since the 2003 U.S. invasion of the country.