Manufacturing fake news is not easy work!! Iraqis cry foul over 'hostage' mystery ((BAGHDAD (AFP) - Religious and civic leaders expressed fears of a conspiracy after a reported kidnapping siege in an Iraqi town ended without resistance and in the apparent absence of any hostages. For some leaders, the mysterious standoff in the town of Madain was part of a self-serving campaign by some politicians or worse, a sinister plot to start a sectarian war. "We want the area to be spared the foolish actions of some in the government," said Sheikh Abdul Hadi al-Darraji, spokesman for radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr. US-backed Iraqi forces took control of the town, south of Baghdad, on Monday without a fight and found no hostages. The three-day standoff around Madain -- marked by rumor, suspicion and conflicting reports -- had threatened to spiral into an all-out national crisis as Sunnis and Shiites negotiate on the formation of a new government. It started on Friday with Shiite residents who fled the mixed town speaking of Sunni militants holding up to 100 people hostage and threatening to kill them unless the Shiites left. This was later confirmed by the interior and defense ministries with officials in the outgoing government of Iyad Allawi promising a military operation to rescue the hostages. At one point the defense ministry said Sunday that 15 hostages were freed. "Yes, there is tension in the area and, yes, Shiites are being targeted by Saddamists and militant Islamists," said Darraji. He confirmed that a Shiite mosque was blown up in Madain, which lies southeast of Baghdad in a belt of towns known as insurgent hotbeds. "But nothing on the scale that was portrayed on television...It is intentional and premeditated," he added. Darraji, like some members of parliament's dominant Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) charged that exaggerated reports of events in Madain may be the work of former regime elements operating in the interior and defense ministries to sow instability and sectarian strife. But influential Sunni clerics including those in the Committee of Muslim Scholars said the whole affair was staged to justify a military operation against Sunnis in the area. "They found no Zarqawi when they went into Fallujah, and the same thing happened here, no hostages," said Sheikh Rafi al-Ani referring to the US-led offensive on the former rebel stronghold of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, to find Al-Qaeda's frontman in Iraq Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. Ani spoke of Sunnis from the tribes of Dulaim, Jubur and Mawla who have intermarried and lived with Shiite tribes from the Albuamer and Tamim for more than 100 years in the area of Madain. He, like fellow Sunni outgoing interior minister Falah al-Naqib, accused Iranian intelligence services and their "agent Shiite politicians" of being behind events in Madain. "Shiites want to control the shrines in the city," said Ani, referring to the tombs of Prophet Mohammed's companions Salman the Persian and Hudhifa bin al-Yaman, both revered by Shiites. Another Sunni leader, Adnan Salman from the waqf, or religious endowment, suggested a tribal land dispute may be behind the trouble in Madain. Khalid Naji, a political analyst who also heads an association of Sunni notables, said both Iraqi and US forces have for a while now turned a blind eye to vigilante operations by Shiites in the area against Sunnis suspected of being involved in the insurgency. "Obviously this increased tension in the area and may have led to reprisals," says Naji. He said the situation is made worse by the fact that the homegrown resistance is mixed in with militants from Zarqawi's network who are "more brutal and indiscriminate in their tactics." "There are also the bandits and highway thieves who pretend to be part of the insurgency," he says. Naji says the events in Madain were latched on by Shiite politicians like Muwafaq al-Rubaie who spoke of Sunni tribes and followers of the hardline Salafist current of Islam having been moved there by Saddam in the 1990s to turn the area into a buffer zone between Baghdad and the Shiite south.