Maliki to present reconciliation plan to assembly

Sunnis outraged by arrest of religious leader in TikritBAGHDAD (Reuters) — Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki was expected to present a national reconciliation plan to parliament on Sunday to defuse a Sunni insurgency and tackle sectarian violence, political sources said.

Sunnis in Iraq were outraged on Saturday by the arrest of one of their top religious leaders in a US raid in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit. The US military said he had been held in a hunt for Al Qaeda militants but later released.

The peace plan, which could be Maliki’s boldest political move yet, sets out to remove powerful militias from the streets, open a dialogue with rebels and review the status of purged members of Saddam’s Baath Party.

Political sources said a key element of the 28-point blueprint would be to draw rebel groups into the process of implementing hoped-for agreements on questions such as defining terrorism.

One important question will be how far Maliki, a Shiite Islamist who took office on May 20, would be willing to go to bring Sunni Muslim insurgents to the negotiating table.

Hasan Al Senaid, a lawmaker in his alliance, said Maliki would offer dialogue with groups that had not shed Iraqi blood.

Maliki refuses to engage Saddam loyalists or Al Qaeda, the group behind much of the violence since a US-led invasion of the country in 2003.

The former exile has long been a strong defender of the sacking of Baath members from the army, a US-engineered policy that critics say bolstered the insurgency.

Former Baathists are expected to get financial compensation under the reconciliation scheme, Senaid said.

The programme also aims to tackle militias, which are seen as among the most destabilising forces in Iraq but are difficult to disband because they are tied to political parties.

Sunni leaders accuse Shiite militias of running death squads.

“Militias will be disarmed and integrated into civil service jobs or the armed forces,” said Senaid.

Parliament Speaker Mahmoud Mashhadani said the initiative was aimed at both Sunni and Shiite extremists.

“This initiative is aimed at rejectionists who spread discord and fear through the ranks of the Iraqi people and prevent progress and rebuilding and security and peace,” he told state television.

“There is no doubt they are Sunni and Shiite extremists.”

Sami Al Askari, another member of Maliki’s bloc, cast doubt on whether the plan would be ready for parliament on Sunday.

But he stressed that it would mark a serious effort to ease sectarian violence that exploded after the February 22 bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine in the town of Samarra.

The arrest on Saturday of Sheikh Jamal Abdel Karim Al Dabaan, a top mufti, or religious authority, for most of Iraq’s Sunni Muslims, would have been unwelcome news for Maliki.

The Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, whose leader is one of the country’s vice presidents, condemned it.

The US military said it had been acting on intelligence gathered following the killing of Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Mussab Zarqawi in a US air strike on June 7 and had not known beforehand that Dabaan’s home was the target.

It said one of the suspects detained was “directly associated with several senior-level Al Qaeda members”.

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