Iraq: Senior Sunni leader meets Shiite sprirtual cleric one day after 50 killed in attacks
Iraq's Sunni vice president held a rare meeting with the country's top Shiite cleric Thursday to seek support for a 25-point blueprint for political reform.
The meeting came one day after a wave of bombings and shootings has swept Iraq, killing more than 50 people. Another parked car bomb struck a predominantly Shiite area in eastern Baghdad on Thursday, killing two civilians and injuring four, a policeman said, according to the AP.
Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi said Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani hailed his initiative during their two-hour meeting in the holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad. The Shiite spiritual leader previously has met with Sunni clerics, but it was his first meeting with a senior government official from the minority Islamic sect, aides said.
"He generally blesses the initiative," al-Hashemi said, adding he found al-Sistani politically "neutral" and eager to promote national unity.
Al-Hashemi's blueprint appears to be an attempt to bolster his reputation as a national statesman and project an image of moderation for his Iraqi Islamic Party and the three-party alliance - the Iraq Accordance Front. He said he had presented it to the Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Shiite bloc the United Iraqi Alliance. "The time has come to sit around the table and have a candid dialogue about key and sensitive matters," al-Hashemi said at a news conference Wednesday at which he unveiled the blueprint in Baghdad.
The blueprint, which al-Hashemi called the Iraqi National Compact, stressed basic democratic principles like respect for human rights, equality before the law, the sanctity of places of worship, prohibition of the use of force to attain political goals, filling government jobs according to merit and keeping the army and police above sectarian or political affiliations.
It also proposed a blanket pardon for Iraqis who took up arms against the government and the U.S.-led coalition forces in exchange for laying down their arms and joining the political process. And it included a nod to Iraq's Kurds, stating that "pending" issues could be "resolved through compromise," a reference to the disputed Kurdish claim to the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk.