06/28/2006, 00.00
IRAQ
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Sunni leader "blesses" al-Maliki reconciliation plan

The leader of the agency responsible for Sunni mosques and shrines has urged the dismantlement of militias. The unveiling of details of the plan is eagerly anticipated. Insurgency groups are dealing with Talabani, but they want a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops before they lay down their arms.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The national reconciliation plan of the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has received a considerable boost: one of the main Sunni leaders has "blessed the initiative", although he has laid down conditions for his group's support, especially the dismantling of militias. Meanwhile, some armed groups are calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops, if they are to comply with planned disarmament.

But major insurgency groups, including Al Qaeda, remain opposed, and have vowed to press ahead with their jihad.

Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samaraie, the head of Sunni Endowment, the state agency responsible for Sunni mosques and shrines, urged the government to move fast and to reveal details of the plan, an initiative he "blessed", saying "we see a glimpse of hope". He said: "We think the first step should be the disbanding of armed militias because the government will not be able to impose the law on everybody with the presence of those militiamen who consider themselves above the law." The cleric voiced alarm about news that "some people are pushing the armed groups to attack some areas in Baghdad, spreading terror and chaos in the city in order to make this plan a failure".

Yesterday, meanwhile, the Kurdish MP, Mahmoud Othman, claimed seven armed groups had started talks with President Jalal Talabani with a view to handing in their weapons. But they called for "a timetable for withdrawal of foreign forces and also their resistance to foreign forces must be legitimately recognized". He did not name the groups, but Shiite sources named six: the 1920 Revolution Brigades, the Mohammad Army, Abtal al-Iraq (Heroes of Iraq), the 9 April Group, Al-Fatah Brigades and the Brigades of the General Command of the Armed Forces. The groups are mostly made up of former members or backers of Saddam Hussein's government, military or security.

Anticipation is rife for the concrete spelling out of the 28 points of the plan, which should be described in detail on Sunday. In the meantime, the first measure has already been announced by the government: the Council of Ministers has offered state employees who were imprisoned and released, the possibility of reinsertion in their posts, in line with recently adopted clemency measures.

Their service would be considered uninterrupted for career privileges. Similarly, freed students will be allowed to return to school to take their final exams and time missed will not be taken into account. These concessions would naturally be withdrawn in case of re-arrest.

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