Poster of Iranian leaders taken down in Baghdad
Iraq Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has ordered the removal of a poster displaying key Iranian political figures, allegedly put up by pro-Tehran militia groups near the shrine of a revered Sunni Imam in Baghdad.
The sudden appearance of images of the founder of the Islamic Republic Ruhollah Khomeini, current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and late General Qasem Soleimani prompted outcry among residents of Azamiya, an east-central Baghdad district which is home to an overwhelmingly Sunni majority population.
Dozens of Azamiya locals gathered near the grounds of Abu Hanifa Mosque, claimed to be the burial site of one of the four founding Imams of Sunni jurisprudence - Imam Abu Hanifa Al-Numan - calling for the poster to be taken down.
Security forces arrived at the site to remove the poster, according to local media.
Iran has been blamed for sponsoring Shia militias during the country's bloody civil war, which led to the deaths of thousands of Sunni and Shia Iraqis in a wave of sectarian killings.
Azamiya locals also received a call from Al-Kadhimi in which he informed them about his decision.
An unnamed security source corroborated the events in comments to The New Arab’s Arabic-language site, adding that security forces stayed in the district for some time amid fears of reprisal attacks from hardline Shia militias.
Videos on social media purport to show youth celebrating the poster's removal, ironically, by members of Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).
The PMF is an incorporated branch of the Iraqi armed forces whose vast network include those hardline pro-Tehran militias thought to be behind the stunt, the source said.
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Al-Kadhimi's attempt to combat the sectarian provocations come as Iraq has hosted several rounds of talks to end the region's fiercest rivalry, between Iran, the world’s only Shia theocracy, and Sunni kingdom Saudi Arabia,.
The two countries have been at loggerheads since breaking official ties in 2016, after Riyadh ordered the execution of top Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. From then on, they have engaged in numerous proxy wars which have involved government and armed groups across the Arab world.