Clashes between army, supporters of fringe cleric imperil stability in Iraq’s Shiite south

By Loveday Morris, July 8, 2014

DIWANIYAH, Iraq — In a house on a side street in this run-down city, Saadiq al-Khakani has exchanged his religious robes for a checked shirt and pants to avoid being recognized.

The young cleric is the local representative of Mahmoud al-Sarkhi, a fringe anti-government Shiite leader whose supporters clashed last week with security forces in the holy city of Karbala, 80 miles northwest, leaving at least seven dead. Since then, more than 100 of the cleric’s followers have been rounded up in Iraq’s largely Shiite south as the government attempts to curb bubbling instability. Khakani’s brother and cousin were arrested in a recent raid on his office.

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