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Maliki Seeks Support From Sunni States in the Gulf

July 01, 2006|From a Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Iraq's new prime minister, Nouri Maliki, was to leave today to visit Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states to solicit support for a reconciliation initiative that has drawn mixed reviews since it was announced Sunday.

Maliki plans to discuss bridging the widening gap between Sunni and Shiite Muslims with leaders of the oil-rich Sunni-dominated countries.

The prime minister's visit to the Gulf countries comes after a spate of incidents that have raised tensions between Iraq's Shiites and Sunnis. Maliki's amnesty proposal is directed primarily at Sunni Arab hard-liners, and the Gulf states could use their money and influence to give his plan credence among the insurgents.

But even as the prime minister takes his plan abroad, it is facing attacks at home. The Muslim Scholars Assn., an influential group of Sunni Arab clerics, denounced the proposal because it does not extend amnesty to fighters who have taken Iraqi or American lives.

And members of Maliki's own Shiite bloc remain wary of any plan that might give the appearance of appeasing Sunni-led insurgents.

Radical cleric Muqtada Sadr recently became the most prominent Shiite leader to reject the amnesty initiative, refusing any reconciliation with the U.S. and supporters of the former Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein.

"We are demanding the exit of the occupiers or to put a timetable for the withdrawal and not to extend their stay," Sadr said in his Friday sermon at the Kufa Mosque, six miles east of Najaf.

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