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Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2006, 12:29 GMT
Iraq Sunni cleric rejects arrest
Leading Sunni cleric Harith al-Dhari
Harith al-Dhari is one of Iraq's most prominent Sunni figures
A leading Sunni Muslim cleric in Iraq has dismissed attempts by the government to have him arrested.

Harith al-Dhari, who heads the Association of Muslim Scholars, said the government was acting illegally.

He is a fierce critic of the government, and has accused it of provoking a crisis with him to cover up their own failures on security.

The Iraqi interior minister, Jawad Bolani, said Mr Dhari was accused of encouraging sectarian violence.

But another government spokesman said later that the Sunni cleric would not be arrested immediately, but was facing investigation.

Mr Dhari, who is in Jordan, has said he will return to Iraq at an appropriate time.

Sectarian divide

These developments come two days after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki publicly criticised him.

BBC Baghdad correspondent David Loyn says Mr Dhari is an Iraqi nationalist who is opposed to any co-operation with America and is also against government proposals to give an amnesty to anyone who gives up the insurgency.

The investigation against such a senior Sunni figure by a Shia-dominated government underlines increasing concern that Iraq's conflict may be moving towards a clear Sunni-Shia sectarian divide, our correspondent says.

The investigation was denounced in Sunni mosques across Baghdad at Friday prayers.

At one, broadcast on Baghdad TV, an imam said the government's move depended on false rumours while they were leaving real criminals free.

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