Diverse Groups Talk In Iraq

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki holds a press conference in Tokyo Tuesday, April 10, 2007.
AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi
A group of senior Sunni Muslim clerics visited Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Tuesday in the holy city of Najaf and emerged from the meeting saying followers of the two sects are "brothers."

"Everybody's aim is to extinguish the fire of strife in our country. This is our call to everyone," said Sheik Mohammed Talabani, head of the Clerics Association in Kurdistan, and a Sunni.

Also Tuesday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said his government is holding talks with some insurgent groups, including members of Saddam Hussein's former regime, as part of a reconciliation plan to stop the violence. Al-Maliki did not name the groups which his government is in contact with, but said that when an Iraq conference is held in Egypt early next month, "We will have good chances for reconciliation."

In other developments:

  • The Marine Corps said Tuesday it had dropped all charges against a Marine accused of murdering civilians in Haditha, Iraq, and had given him testimonial immunity. Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz of Chicago had faced charges of unpremeditated murder in the death of five Iraq civilians.
  • A top Iraqi insurgent leader claimed in an audiotape posted online Tuesday that his al Qaeda-linked group had begun manufacturing its own rockets.
  • A U.S. Marine has died from a "non-hostile incident" while on combat patrol in Iraq's western Anbar province, the military said Tuesday. The incident, which occurred Monday, was under investigation, the U.S. military said in a statement, adding that the death "was not the result of enemy action." The victim's name was withheld pending family notification.
  • The resignations of six Iraqi cabinet ministers loyal to a radical cleric could help the reconciliation process there, depending on who is appointed to replace them, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday in Amman, Jordan.
  • The trial of a U.S. soldier for the alleged killing of an Italian intelligence officer in Iraq two years ago has been postponed until May 14, reports CBS News' Sabina Castelfranco. On May 4, 2005, Nicola Calipari was shot as he was in a car driving to Baghdad airport after having secured the release of a kidnapped Italian journalist. The soldier who allegedly shot him, Mario Lozano, was indicted on charges of murder and attempted murder, and was to be tried in absentia. Lozano has defended his actions, saying he had no choice but to fire.

    Iraq's Sunni mufti, Sheik Jamaluddin al-Dabban, said al-Sistani asked him to give his regards to all Sunni scholars in the country. "We call for unity," al-Dabban said.

    A third cleric from the Kurdish city of Irbil, Sheik Ali al-Khafaji, said "Our aim is Iraq's unity. There is no difference between Sunnis and Shiites. They are all our brothers."

    Sunni clerics have frequently visited al-Sistani in the past. They also visited three other top Shiite clerics in Najaf on Tuesday.

    Iraq's neighbors and other countries are scheduled to hold a meeting on May 3-4 in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik.

    "We are having meetings with groups that are not part of the political process ... They asked us not to reveal their names," al-Maliki told reporters at his office in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

    "The talks are still going and they are part of the national reconciliation," he said.