August 26, 2006

Iraqi PM looks to tribes for unity

By Mussab Al-Khairalla

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki
urged hundreds of tribal leaders gathered in Baghdad on
Saturday to unite to end the bitter sectarian bloodshed between
Sunnis and Shi'ites that has raised fears of civil war.

"Iraq needs all of its sons during this stage. There is no
difference between Sunnis and Shi'ites," he told the meeting,
the first in a series to promote dialogue between the warring
sects as part of his national reconciliation programme.

Washington says a major security crackdown by Iraqi and
American troops in Baghdad, where the communal bloodshed is
worst, is not a durable solution to Iraq's instability and must
be accompanied by movement on the political front.

"Yes, we differ in opinion and that's a healthy sign but we
must hold dialogue to solve our problems," Maliki said.

"The liberation of the nation from any foreign hand cannot
be without national unity, the unity that our forefathers built
during hundreds of years."

But as Maliki sought to ease sectarian tensions, a Shi'ite
leader said in comments likely to infuriate minority Sunnis
that Shi'ites should form their own region in the south.

Sunnis, who were dominant under Saddam Hussein but now form
the backbone of an insurgency, fear federalism will cut them
off from Iraq's oil-rich regions in the Shi'ite south and the
Kurdish north. Sunnis live mostly in central Iraq, where there
is no oil.


"The biggest assurance to our people is implementing
federalism in the center and the south, which must be voted on
by the people," Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme
Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was quoted as
telling party members.

Shi'ites, the majority sect in Iraq, were oppressed under
Saddam but now lead the government of national unity.

The government hopes tribal leaders can exercise influence
over their tribes, but it is unclear how effective they can be
among Iraqis increasingly turning to religious leaders for

Iraq's minister for national dialogue, Akram al-Hakim, told
state television that other meetings would be held to bring
together clerics, army officers and civil and political groups.

One Sunni tribal leader set out a list of demands,
including a five-year delay in implementing federalism under
the constitution, the disbandment of a committee that has
purged thousands of mostly Sunni members of the former ruling
party from state institutions, and the disarming of militias.

Sunnis accuse militias tied to the government of fuelling
much of the sectarian conflict.

In fresh violence, gunmen in the religiously mixed town of
Baquba attacked a Shi'ite family, killing two women and two
young children and wounding 11 others. Police said they had
been moving out of their house after receiving death threats.

In Saddam's home town of Tikrit, gunmen killed three
Shi'ites working in a bakery.

But the violence has not been restricted to Sunni and
Shi'ite Arabs. Four Kurdish civilians were killed by gunmen
near ethnically mixed Kirkuk, a city rich in oil at the center
of a complex dispute over its ethnic identity.