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Pro-American Iraqi Sunni Leader Pays Visit

Daily Star - Lebanon
May 23, 2007

Meeting with sadr supporters signals call for 'reconciliation' A pro-US Sunni tribal leader made a rare visit to the Iraqi capital's Shiite bastion of Sadr City on Tuesday in a bid for national reconciliation. An Iraqi parliamentary committee has failed to finalize an agreement on amending key articles in the constitution, one of the political benchmarks Washington says are important to end sectarian violence.

After six months of talks, the Constitutional Reform Committee had been expected to present Parliament with a final draft of their recommendations on Tuesday. Sheikh Hamid al-Hayis, the armed wing chief of an alliance of Sunni tribes fighting Al-Qaeda alongside US forces in Anbar province of western Iraq, visited supporters of hard-line Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

"This meeting is a message to Iraqi politicians to get rid of their differences and to seek real reconciliation," Hayis said. While Iraq is ostensibly led by a unity government of Sunni and Shiite parties, relations have dissolved into acrimonious bickering, paralyzing political life in the violence-plagued country. "We are trying to pressure [the government] to make political changes for the sake of the Iraqi people who are drowning in the blood of their sons," Hayis added.

The Anbar tribes are hoping to turn their alliance into a national political movement and are fierce rivals to the main Sunni political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party. Sadr's movement, meanwhile, has withdrawn from the government. Sadr, who has not been seen in months, was represented by three MPs from his 30-strong parliamentary bloc, a senior leader in his political office, and the heads of major families living in the neighborhood.

"This visit shows that Iraqi tribes are standing side by side and they are the nail in the coffin of the abhorrent sectarianism which has split our country," said Shiite Sheikh Malik Sewadi al-Mohammadawi. The head of one of Sadr City's most influential tribes, Mohammadawi blamed the country's sectarian strife on "occupation forces and foreign [Sunni religious extremists]." Sunni insurgents, once supported by the Anbar tribes, continue to stage dramatic bombing attacks against Shiite civilians while militias, including Sadr's Mehdi Army, exact their revenge on Sunnis.

In recent weeks, however, Sadr's movement has made moves to reach out to the Sunni community and build on its nationalist, rather than just Shiite, credentials. Participants at Tuesday's meeting called for improved national security services, for holding internationally monitored provincial council elections, and for "calling any killer of Iraqis a terrorist who has to be fought." The participants said they hoped to arrange future meetings involving Sadr himself.

"Abu Risha said he would visit Sadr soon," said Abdel-Mehdi al-Muteiri of Sadr's office, referring to Abdel-Sattar Baziyya of the Abu Risha tribe, the leader of the Anbar Awakening coalition. "There will be a meeting soon in the holy city of Najaf. The Sayyed [Sadr] liked and welcomed the idea of the visit," he added. US President George W. Bush, under pressure to show tangible progress in the four-year-old war, has pushed Iraqi leaders to agree power-sharing legislation are aimed at bringing Sunni Arabs more firmly into the political process.

Members of the Iraqi committee said they would ask political leaders to deal with sensitive issues such as sharing Iraq's oil wealth more equitably and ending a ban on former members of Saddam Hussein's party members holding public office. "We have agreed on some articles but there are sensitive issues which need an agreement among the political leaders," said Saleem al-Jubouri, a member of the Accordance Front, the biggest Sunni bloc in the Iraqi Parliament. Jubouri said that Sunni Arab and Shiite members of the committee had disagreed with a Kurdish demand to allow regions to distribute oil income rather than the central government.

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