Today the headlines on most Iraqi newspapers are talking about al-Maliki's tour in the gulf that is supposed to cover at least three countries with Saudi Arabia being the first stop.
The announced objective of the tour is to garner regional support for al-Maliki's reconciliation initiative and probably al-Maliki decided to make this tour after some insurgent groups have called for giving the Arab league and certain Arab countries a role in this project, meanwhile there are other groups alluding to a possible American pressure on these countries to play a constructive role referring to Khaliazad's earlier visit to Saudi Arabia.
Actually I would be disappointed if al-Maliki hadn't consider such a tour; the neighboring countries are all involved in what's going in Iraq in one way or another and no one can deny that they are part of the problem therefore any search for a solution has to include talking to these countries and working out some sort of understanding with them.
We must not forget that the conflict in Iraq is in fact an indirect conflict between the neighboring countries and America and among the neighboring countries themselves (a sectarian-ethnic conflict between the Arabs and Iran, a political conflict between Iran and America and another political conflict between Arabs and America and this one originates form the difference in the visions of America and Arabs for the region. Not to mention other smaller conflicts). Unfortunately the only Iraqi elements in these conflicts are the Iraqi parties that accepted to fight this conflict on behalf of Iraq's neighbors.
Let's go back to Baghdad, here we are getting contradicting accounts on the progress of the plan, some like the pro-government al-Sabah are overly optimistic about it and are conveying positive messages supposedly from the insurgent groups that are accepting the plan. Al-Sabah is even reporting that yet more insurgent groups are joining the club:
Informed sources told al-Sabah that a new number of these groups are asking some parliamentary powers to mediate talks with the government…the sources said this desire was conveyed to the PM through people close to his office and that al-Maliki is expected to give his response to these groups' demands by Friday. The same sources said these groups are considering making a joint announcement in which they will declare dropping their weapons and joining the talks with the government within 15 days; this time the sources are talking about the "largest of the militant groups" that make up the bulk of the resistant groups.
On the other extreme there is the anti-reconciliation camp of which the association of Muslim scholars whose spokesman al-Dhari keeps saying that "no resistance groups had accepted al-Maliki's initiative" and even said the names presented by the media as names of militant groups did not exist…[I wonder if he has a list with all the names!]
In the middle of these conflicting accounts we get some moderate statements like the statement from deputy PM Salam al-Zoubai; al-Zoubaii who's one of the leaders of the Accord Front was supportive of the initiative but said that only 5 not 10 militant groups had responded positively.
He also said something interesting about the militias issue as he told al-Sabah that the cabinet is trying to find a solution for this issue without integrating the members of these militias into the official security forces.
Another report, this time from al-Mada gives an impression that al-Maliki wants to open as many dialogue channels as possible to encourage insurgents to come forward and talk to him even if no mediators were found. The paper says that al-Maliki announced a special email address to allow anyone-especially insurgent willing to reconcile-to allow them to contact him directly over a safe line. But the also notes that response has been scarce so far and only two messages arrived at that inbox as of Thursday according to top security adviser Wafeeq al-Samarraii.
By the way, I couldn't get that email address, it was displayed only once on local TV and only for a few seconds "to avoid spam mail"!!
This reconciliation plan continues to face serious challenges and the worst of which is today's barbaric attack that killed and wounded dozens in Baghdad, in "Sadr city" to be more accurate.
I'm afraid this attack will inflict more harm in the future than it already did today because it's similar to the Samarra bombing in its goals and this one I see as a blow directed at the reconciliation plan because the type of target suggests so.
The attack carries the marks of al-Qaeda and this terror organization is learning to choose their targets carefully; they did see for example that assassinating relatives and colleagues of the members of the Accord Front did not deter them from joining the political process and becoming part of the cabinet because they were determined to do so. So this time in order to avoid similar results they did not target the parties that are willing to reconcile and chose the side that openly declared its rejection for the reconciliation plan and is well known for being a violent trend.
I think al-Qaeda is hoping that this attack will provoke followers of al-Sadr whose response will almost certainly be a violent one and will probably lead to a series of exchanged violence that will threaten the reconciliation initiative in its first steps.