Iraqi Body Supports Maliki's Security Plan
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
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And I'm Michele Norris.
In Baghdad today, the Iraqi parliament voted to support the new security plan for the capital that will involve an additional 17,000 American troops. After a turbulent session of the legislature, even members of extremist Sunni and Shiite parties voted yes on the plan. And in a dramatic turnaround, lawmakers linked to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr say they approve of negotiations with U.S.-led forces.
NPR's Anne Garrels reports from Baghdad.
ANNE GARRELS: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed the new security plan will leave militants nowhere to hide no matter who they are.
NOURI AL: (Speaking foreign language)
GARRELS: There will be no safe place, he said, be it a school, a Sunni or Shiite mosque, a political party headquarters or a home. He pledged they will all be raided if they're launch pads for terrorists. Maliki said he's worked hard to get professional officers with no political affiliation to lead the plan. Let's help them, he begged.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)
GARRELS: Maliki's speech triggered charges and countercharges between Sunni and Shiite lawmakers with each accusing the other of terrorism. Finally, the deputy speaker called on lawmakers to think not as Sunni or Shiite, but as Iraqis.
Why can't we be nationalists, he pleaded.
Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)
GARRELS: Despite mutual suspicion, the security plan passed. Sunnis raised their hands, as did supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr.
BHARAL ADAGI: (Speaking foreign language)
GARRELS: Bharal Adagi, who represents the young, anti-American Shiite cleric, said he backs the new security measures even though it means some Sadr supporters may be arrested.
Today's events suggested dramatic change in attitude, at least among some of the key political players. Prime Minister Maliki's speech reinforced reports he has indeed dropped his protection of Sadr's Mehdi Army and will no longer get in the way when U.S. and Iraqi forces detain militiamen.
In the past month, U.S. and Iraqi forces have arrested more than 600 Sadr militiamen, including several top Mehdi Army commanders. For whatever reasons, whether he feels cornered or abandoned, Moqtada al-Sadr now seems willing to deal with the coalition for the first time.
Rahim al-Darraji(ph), the mayor of Sadr City, the stronghold of the Mehdi Army, confirmed today he is negotiating with coalition commanders on behalf of Sadr's militia. He said the Mehdi Army and other illegal groups will disarm if the Iraqi and U.S. governments provide security and reconstruction.
RAHIM AL: (Speaking foreign language)
GARRELS: He said it's time to work for stability and stop the sectarian war. He will meet with a British general again tomorrow. He said both U.S. and Iraqi troops could now be welcome in Sadr City to protect the people.
As evidence of Sadr's about turn, he said most of Sadr's forces have not retaliated for recent Sunni attacks, even though these have intensified.
ABU MUJTABA: (Speaking foreign language)
GARRELS: A Sadr commander, Abu Mujtaba, confirmed that Sadr's forces have been told to keep a low profile in order to avoid a large scale assault by American troops and to help calm the situation. He said Sunni families were no longer to be expelled from Shiite neighborhoods.
Saba Mohammad, whose Sunni family had been threatened, says the Mehdi Army now says he may stay in his house. He said those in his neighborhood who've already been forced out were being invited to return.
SABA MOHAMMAD: (Through Translator) We spoke to the Mehdi Army leader. He told us no Sunnis will be forced from this area anymore and you should feel safe. I can't say we believe him, but we have nowhere else to go.
GARRELS: U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad says the mayor of Sadr City is saying all the right things, but U.S. officials say talks are still at an early stage. Given Sadr's long opposition to the presence of American troops and his militias' role in killing Sunnis and U.S. forces, Khalilzad wants assurances the militias will disarm and not simply melt away only to return later.
Anne Garrels, NPR News. Baghdad.
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