Tit-for-tat between Al-Azhar, Iraq over Shiite armed groups
Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari
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CAIRO: Al-Azhar has denied it succumbed to “pressures,” compelling it to retract alleged statements that support Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF.)

“The Iraqi delegation heard with its own ears Al-Azhar’s clear and explicit stance on the unity of the Islamic nation (…) and attempts exposed to everyone to allow the dominance of one party over another and hijack homelands for the benefit of foreign affiliations,” Al-Azhar said in a Sunday statement.

Al-Azhar had held a meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari Thursday in its headquarters in Cairo.

“Al-Azhar is the independent institution of all Muslims and is above pressures to which many, unfortunately, yield,” the statement added.

Earlier on Sunday, spokesperson of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry Ahmed Jamal said “the Mobilization is an important and basic part of the Iraqi national defense system; any attempts to involve it in a sectarian context are totally unacceptable,” according to several Iraqi news websites.

“If the brothers in Al-Azhar are perhaps trying to back down as a result of pressures exerted on them, this is their own issue, but we are honest and clear in this context,” Jamal said.

On Friday, the Saudi diplomatic delegation withdrew from the meetings of the Arab League after Jaafari defended the PMF and Hezbollah in a speech, an official source in the Iraqi Foreign Ministry told Alsumaria News, an Iraqi website.

The Arab League formally labeled Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah a “terrorist organization” on the same day.

Iraqi Foreign Ministry quotes Al-Azhar officials

“We talked about the phenomenon of resisting popular support, which reinforces the armed forces in preserving security, and that it is a historically and geographically well-known phenomenon globally; such as the popular mobilization in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Jaafari said in a statement released from his office after his Thursday meeting with Al-Azhar’s Tayeb and undersecretary Abbas Shouman.

“Al-Azhar’s Sheikh agrees with what Jaafari introduced and expressed his happiness with this direction, praising Jaafari’s ideas and proposals that serve the Islamic nation in general and Iraq in particular,” Jaafari’s statement, as reported by Iraqi news outlets, quoted Shouman as saying.

On Friday, Al-Azhar accused the Foreign Ministry of “exploiting” its diplomatic meeting with its Imam and its “good will gesture,” denying it had praised Shiite armed groups.

In the statement, Al-Azhar supported the Arab League’s decision regarding Hezbollah, and called on Shiite leaders to issue a fatwa that forbids “systematic murders perpetrated by sectarian militias against Sunnis.”

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