Fury in Iraq after Saudi paper warns of pregnancies at Shia rites


One of the most widely circulated pan-Arab newspapers provoked outrage in Iraq on Sunday when it published a report claiming the World Health Organisation had warned of illegitimate pregnancies during upcoming Shia Muslim ceremonies in the holy city of Karbala.

The Iraqi government demanded an official apology from Asharq Al-Awsat, saying that the report was "an insult to the zealous Iraqi people who are fighting and sacrificing the best of their sons in defence of their land and honour."

The newspaper, published in London but owned by the publicly-listed Saudi Research and Marketing Group, published the story on the front page of its Sunday edition with the headline "International warning of 'illegitimate' pregnancies in Karbala."

It attributed the warning to WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl. The WHO had earlier denounced an "unethical report" published on another website falsely citing it as a source for claims on "so called illegitimate marriages during religious ceremonies."  Neither WHO nor Asharq Al-Awsat could immediately be reached for comment on Sunday evening.

The online version of the article was removed from the newspaper's website by Sunday evening. In the print edition the article accompanied a story on an inside page claiming that Iranian religious militias were in Karbala for the Arbaeen pilgrimage.

Asharq Al-Awsat's editorial line is typically close to official Saudi policy. Some analysts say the conservative Sunni kingdom has played up the Sunni-Shia divide in order to reduce the appeal in the Arab world of its regional rival, Shia Iran.    (dpa)

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