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Iraqis Prepare for Reconciliation Conference


On Saturday, Iraqi political figures, parties and other groups will gather in Baghdad to try to find a way to stop the sectarian violence that in recent months has been killing on average nearly 100 Iraqis each day. From Baghdad, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Last month, a United Nations report said more than 7,000 Iraqis were killed during September and October.

It is this spiraling violence -- which is driven by religious differences -- that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is trying to find a way to stop at Saturday's national reconciliation conference.

Two earlier reconciliation conferences were postponed, but Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish member of Iraq's parliament, tells VOA that the meeting looks set to happen, but it is unclear exactly who will participate.

"If people from outside the political process participate, let's say Baathists, this will be more important, because we are making reconciliation with these people," he said.

"But if it is only limited to the people in the political process, still it will be useful, because inside the political process, you have differences that have to be solved: Sunnis on one side, Shi'ites on one side," he added.

He says, until now, no list of participants or agenda has been publicized. But it is expected that the 24-point reconciliation plan that Mr. Maliki announced last June will form the framework for the discussions.

That plan includes a general amnesty for insurgents, who renounce violence and who have not attacked American soldiers or Iraqis, as well as a promise to crack down on militias.

But just getting all the participants to the table to begin a dialogue is by itself a difficult task.

Radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose support has helped Prime Minister Maliki stay in power, has said his representatives' participation is conditional on a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

On Friday, he went a step further, calling for the American and British Embassies to be evicted from Iraq.

Another prominent figure, Adnan al-Dulaimi, the head of the largest Sunni Arab party, attended a conference in Istanbul, Turkey, on Thursday, where he appealed to Sunnis from neighboring countries to save Iraq's Sunni minority from the governing Shi'ites.

All of this, Othman says, makes for a difficult environment for talks of reconciliation.

He said, "But if your mentality does not change, if you do not go against militias, if you do not go against terrorists, if you do not really have the will to have a Sunni-Shi'ite solution, I do not think a conference could do much."

There appears to be only one point that unites all Iraqis today, and that is football. On Friday afternoon, Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds all rooted for the Iraqi national football team to beat Qatar in the finals of the Asia Cup. But their dreams were dashed in a one-zero victory for Qatar.