An investigation committee has been formed to find the whereabouts of the group thought to be behind the murder of 21 Shiite Iraqis, the country’s defense and culture minister told Al Arabiya TV.
“With God’s willing, we will put off the fire of sectarianism,” said Sa’doun al-Dilaimi, adding “We have formed committees to investigate the tragic incident.”
“The Nikhaib incident” is how Iraqis are referring to the episode of the murder of 21 Shiite pilgrims from Karbala who were heading to Damascus and passed through the Sunni Iraqi province of al-Anbar, which shares a border with Syria.
Nikhaib, a provincial Iraqi town bordering the Shiite-dominated holy city of Karbala and Anbar, is a disputed area between the two provinces, and the incident has reignited the debate on whether Nikhaib should belong to either one or both of the provinces.
The incident also raised tensions between Anbar and Karbala when the Sunni province accused the Shiite-dominated government of taking a unilateral decision by “abducting” the suspects in Rutbah, a provincial town in Anbar bordering Jordan.
Anbar’s mayor, Mohammed Qassim al-Fahdawi, said the arrest of the suspects was an operation facilitated by the prime minister’s office and which curtailed the power of his province to search for the suspects.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said that people should respect the judgment of the law, referring to the fact tht four of the suspects were released because of lack of evidence. He also said that the incident was “a small storm which is now over.”
Four other suspects were transferred back to their Anbar province for trial, thereby signaling increased tensions between the two Iraqi provinces.
Pro-government Al-Sahwa (Awakening) leader Ahmed Abu Risha, who said that the suspects were “kidnapped,” threatened that “the detainees should be handed over within 24 hours,” or else his province would block the Syria-Karbala road.
In Karbala the eight suspects were paraded in public in celebration of their arrest, a matter that aroused anger in Anbar province.
A bus carrying 30 passengers was hijacked in the Nikhaib area in September 12. The women and children passengers were left on the highway, but the male passengers were driven to the desert and murdered.
Meanwhile, a prominent sheikh in Anbar offered a bounty of $42,000 for information that helped find the people who carried out the attack.
The incident has sparked fears that a new wave of sectarianism is on the rise.