Iraqi security forces also blew up Sarkhi’s headquarters and its Hosseiniya mosque complex, fearing they were booby-trapped, and the controversial cleric is now believed to have fled the city. Karbala Governor Aqil Al-Tarihi told reporters on Thursday that the security forces have arrested 350 of Sarkhi’s followers.
“Sarkhi is not a religious cleric, and when his followers picked up arms and attacked citizens, it forced us to launch the operation to arrest them. We will not allow the presence of any of Sarkhi’s followers in Karbala,” Al-Tarihi said. (Ashrq Al-Awsat, 4 July)
Sarkhi issued a statement later saying security forces provoked the clashes.
“These actions are the actions of militias and the result of my rejection of partition and sectarianism that has killed the people of Iraq. Their action is evidence of their failure and lack of steadfastness towards patriotic action,” Sarkhi said in his statement.
The government claims that Sarkhi and his followers are attempting to create Shia-Shia sectarian conflict in Karbala and southern provinces as an extension of Islamic State’s advances in western and northern Iraq. Al-Sarkhi's pro-Arab, anti-Iran and anti-Grand Ayatollah Sistani views do find common cause with the Sunnis, a matter of great concern to Baghdad.
Al-Sarkhi’s forces, the so-called Hossein Army, have reportedly reconvened at his stronghold in Nasiriyah in the southern Iraqi province of Dhi Qar.
Top photo: A burnt poster of Shia cleric Mahmoud al-Sarkhi at a checkpoint in front of his headquarters in Karbala, 2 July 2014. (Ahmad al-Husseini/AP/Ashrq Al-Awsat)
Bottom photo: ISF deployed during clashes with followers of al-Sarkhi, Karbala. (Mohammed Sawaf/AFP)