BAGHDAD (AFP) – Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has discussed with Iraq’s political leaders his new plan to stem spiralling sectarian violence, which is killing 100 people a day.
Tuesday’s meetings on how to implement the plan they had all signed on to came as the US military announced that eight US soldiers were killed Monday in Baghdad, including four in a single bomb blast, with 17 dead in three days.
The plan took the form of a solemn pledge signed by leaders of the political factions on Monday to halt the bloodshed, but at least one Sunni leader said the cost of the plan’s failure would be “the end of Iraq”.
“We pledge to God, his Prophet and the Iraqi people to address the crisis which is causing all this bloodshed and we pledge to stop this bleeding,” said the statement.
Central to the plan is a crackdown on the activities of illegal armed groups, such as the Shiite Mahdi Army of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that holds sway in many cities in the country.
“We welcome any efforts or actions leading to the end of the bleeding of Iraqis,” said Sahib al-Ameri, director of Sadr’s foundation for martyrs in the Shiite shrine city of Najaf.
In a meeting with visiting US congressional delegation, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Maliki stated his tough position on militias.
“We deliver this message to those who think with the mentality of the militias: there is no place for them in a civilized country.”
The head of the Sunni parliamentary bloc, Adnan al-Dulaimi, told AFP that “if everyone is honest and keeps to their commitments, it will be positive for the Iraqi people and put an end to the sectarianism. If not, it will be the end of Iraq.”
The magnitude of the crisis was further emphasized by a report from the International Organization for Migration that 9,000 Iraqis are fleeing their homes every week.
Maliki’s plan envisages the creation of neighborhood committees comprised of representatives of different political, religious and civil society groups.
These committees would monitor the situation in their neighborhoods and convey concerns to a central monitoring body about such issues as militia activity or abuses by local security forces.
There would also be a committee to “monitor the media” for divisive sectarian messages. Much of Iraq’s media are controlled by the individual political and sectarian groups and tend to strongly reflect their opinions.
Maliki even went out of his way to condemn the “contrarian media” he said was covering up the progress made by his government.
His plan is the latest of many initiatives he has presented since he was sworn into office in May.
These include a much-publicized national reconciliation initiative launched in June as well as a multi-phase military operation code-named Together Forward aimed at stabilizing the capital.
Parliamentarians from different political parties took time out in their session debating new laws to welcome the prime minister’s initiative.
“We hope this plan will be a practical step that is actually implemented on the ground,” said Majid Hamid Mussa, a deputy with the secular Iraqiya list of former premier Iyad Allawi.
Ahead of the announcement of Maliki’s plan, Baghdad was shocked by two high-profile mass kidnappings that saw dozens of people snatched off the street by gunmen wearing military-style uniforms.
Many later turned up in the grim daily harvest of corpses found by police on Baghdad’s streets or downstream in the Tigris.
The interior ministry, in a rare public acknowledgement of accountability, suspended the National Police commander for Amil neighborhood where 26 people were kidnapped on Sunday.
In continued violence, Iraq’s industry minister survived a double bomb attack on his convoy in central Baghdad on Wednesday that killed at least nine people and wounded at least 51, police and Interior Ministry sources said.
One police source put the toll at 11 dead and 74 wounded.
The industry minister in the four-month old national unity government is Fawzi al-Hariri, from the Kurdish bloc. Police however did not name the minister in the attack.
An Industry Ministry spokesman said he was checking the report and the minister’s whereabouts.
A car bomb detonated in the capital’s Karrada district as the official convoy passed, police said. A subsequent roadside bomb blast also caused casualties.