BAGHDAD, Iraq - As the smoke cleared from a chain of deadly attacks in Iraq, the first signs of unease at the level of destruction and bloodshed emerged Friday among influential Iraqis who advocate resistance against the U.S. occupation but are unwilling to mate their struggle with the international jihad advocated by Osama bin Laden.
The objections - from Shiite and Sunni Muslim leaders who oppose the U.S. role in Iraq, including the rebellious cleric Moqtada Sadr, and even from militia fighters in the embattled city of Fallujah - centered on the car bombings and guerrilla assaults Thursday in six cities in central and northern Iraq that killed more than 100 Iraqis, many of them police officers.
They arose in part from revulsion that the victims were overwhelmingly fellow Iraqis, including some patients at a hospital in Mosul near a bombed-out police academy. But they also betrayed Iraqi nationalist concerns that the struggle against U.S. occupation forces risked being hijacked by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian national whom U.S. officials describe as linked to bin Laden's al-Qaida network.
Since being appointed three weeks ago, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and members of his U.S.-sponsored interim government have railed against the car bombings and other attacks, as have U.S. officials. But Friday's show of disgust, announced in mosques and in Sadr's case with flyers calling for cooperation with Iraqi police, marked the first time anti-occupation clerics and fighters took sides against the violence, which Zarqawi increasingly has claimed as his own in Web site announcements widely followed in Iraq.
In that light, it could be an important moment in the U.S. struggle to win acceptance for the military occupation here and the interim government scheduled to recover a limited form of sovereignty next Wednesday. While far from embracing the U.S. occupation or the new government, the anti-occupation leaders seemed clearly to disavow the bloodiest edge of the anti-U.S. violence and Zarqawi's attempt to make it part of al-Qaida's vision of international jihad.
"Which religion allows anyone to kill more than 100 Iraqis, destroy 100 families and destroy 100 houses?" raged influential cleric Sheik Ahmed Abdul Ghafour Samarrae in his Friday sermon at Umm al-Qura Mosque in Baghdad. "Who says so? Who are those people who do this? Where did they come from? ... It is a conspiracy to defame the reputation of the Iraqi resistance by wearing its dress and using its name falsely. These people hurt the Iraqis and Iraq, giving the occupier an excuse to stay longer."
Samarrae said he has received information that some Iraqi underground resistance leaders have begun to fight with Zarqawi loyalists, insisting the jihadists do not represent the "right and true resistance." He warned against those who he said want to tear the country apart in the name of Islam and suggested they were foreigners who should not be part of Iraq's conflict.
"We do not need anyone from outside the borders to stand with us and spill the blood of our sons in Iraq," he declared.
In a similar vein, a group of masked fighters in Fallujah stood before Reuters television cameras and read out a statement insisting that the city's violent struggle against U.S. Marines outside the city is being carried out by Fallujans, not Zarqawi or other foreign fighters. Shortly after their declaration, the U.S. military launched precision weapons against what it called a Zarqawi safe house, the third such strike in less than a week.
"The American invader forces claim that Zarqawi, and with him a group of Arab fighters, are in our city," said one of the heavily armed men, reading from a paper. "We know that this talk about Zarqawi and the fighters is a game that the American invader forces are playing to strike Islam and Muslims in the city of mosques, steadfast Fallujah."
Fallujah, 20 miles west of Baghdad, has battled with U.S. troops off and on for the past three months. Famed for its numerous mosques, it was a center of support for former president Saddam Hussein and has a strong tradition of fundamentalist Sunni Islam. But, the fighters seemed to be saying, that does not mean it has joined Zarqawi's struggle.
Similarly, sheiks in Baqouba, where scores of fighters proclaiming allegiance to Zarqawi attacked police stations and government buildings in Thursday's offensive, called on the faithful not to support such efforts in the future. The attackers, they said in their Friday sermons, were foreigners attacking Iraqis.
"This is the first time we have heard the minaret broadcast support for the Iraqi government," said Edward Peter Messmer, the occupation authority's coordinator for the Baqouba region, 40 miles northeast of Baghdad. "And it couldn't come at a better time."