Iraq PM says some governments fund sectarianism

BAGHDAD - The Middle East is going through "dangerous" times as some governments spend large amounts of money on stirring sectarian strife, Iraq's prime minister said on Thursday.

"Today, the region lives (under) a dangerous wave of challenges, the real root of which is sectarianism," Nuri al-Maliki said in a speech in the shrine city of Najaf, adding that large amounts of money are being spent on "sectarian goals."

"Why do we hear from these governments that are releasing fire in the sectarian strife, the strife of hatred that strikes at the unity of Muslims?" asked Maliki, a Shiite.

"Let us state to the people that lots of money is being spent on stirring sectarian strife," he said. He was apparently referring to energy-rich states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia that have allegedly provided assistance to the mainly-Sunni rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Shiite-majority Iraq has pointedly avoided calling for Assad to step down, instead urging an end to violence by all parties.