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Iraq Sunni, Shi'ite leaders meet to break deadlock

Written by: Staff

Baghdad, Mar 11: Sunni Arab and Shi'ite political leaders held talks today (Mar 11, 2006) on breaking a deadlock over a new prime minister that has stalled the formation of a government of national unity.

It was the first two-way meeting between Sunni Arab and Shi'ite parties since the bombing of an important Shi'ite mosque on February. 22 unleashed a wave of sectarian violence, much of it directed against Sunni mosques and clerics. The attacks had prompted Sunni Arab parties to pull out of negotiations.

President Jalal Talabani yesterday delayed Sunday's opening of parliament by a week to give parties more time to agree on key posts, including that of the powerful position of prime minister, now occupied by Shi'ite Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

The Shi'ite Alliance, which dominated elections in December, has said it will not succumb to pressure from Kurds and Sunnis to drop Jaafari, who critics say has failed to bring stability or prosperity to Iraq in the year he has been interim premier.

''We are on our way to meet the UIA now to discuss the formation of the government and solve the political crisis,'' said Zafer al-Aani, a spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front, the biggest Sunni Arab political grouping.

The United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), a coalition of Shi'ite Islamist parties, won 128 seats in the elections, making it the biggest bloc in parliament. But is still short of the required number of seats to form a government on its own.

''We will discuss the nomination of the Shi'ite Alliance for prime minister,'' Aani said.

An aide to Vice President Adel Abdul-Mehdi, a leading member of the Shi'ite Alliance, said the meeting had started at 3.30 p.m.

The Accordance Front had made a list of 10 conditions for it to return to the talks. Talabani said on Friday most of these had been met.

The US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, is pressing the political leaders to end the impasse and move quickly to form a grand coalition of Shi'ites, Kurds and Sunnis.

Washington hopes a national unity government will undermine support for the insurgency and allow US troop withdrawals.


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