Iraq's Sunni-backed bloc to end parliament boycott

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 29, 2012 10:09 AM
Iraq's Sunni-backed bloc to end parliament boycott

By Suadad al-Salhy

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's Sunni-backed Iraqiya political bloc will end a boycott of the parliament, a spokeswoman said on Sunday, easing the worst political crisis in Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's power-sharing government in a year.

The decision by Iraqiya clears the way for talks among fractious Shi'ite, Kurdish and Sunni blocs, but deep disputes over power-sharing remain unresolved, keeping alive the risk that Iraq could fall back into widespread sectarian violence.

The crisis erupted just days after the last American troops left Iraq in December, when Maliki's government sought the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and moved to sideline one of his Sunni deputies who branded Maliki a dictator.

The political blocs are planning a national conference to try to ease the turmoil.

"As a goodwill gesture, Iraqiya announces its return to parliament meetings to create a healthy atmosphere to help the national conference, and to seek guarantees for the conference to succeed and defuse the political crisis," Iraqiya spokeswoman Maysoon al-Damluji told a news conference.

Damluji's announcement followed a meeting attended by some of Iraqiya's top leaders, including parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, Finance Minister Rafie al-Esawi and Saleh al-Mutlaq, the deputy prime minister Maliki had tried to oust.

She said the leaders would meet again later to decide whether Iraqiya ministers would return to cabinet meetings.

Iraqiya's return to parliament could shore up Maliki's position for now, but the Sunni-backed bloc is deeply divided over whether to stay in the fragile power-sharing arrangement.

Maliki says his initiative against Hashemi was judicial and not political, but his moves against two key Iraqiya figures have compounded fears among Iraqi Sunnis that he wants to consolidate Shi'ite control and his own power.

Hashemi remains in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region where his immediate arrest is unlikely.

Since the U.S. invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, in 2003, the Shi'ite majority has ascended, leaving Sunni Muslims feeling sidelined from power. Kurdish political blocs have more often reached political deals with Shi'ite parties.

The power-sharing agreement took almost a year to cobble together and has struggled to work when passing key laws such as a national hydrocarbons bill.

Recent political turmoil has been accompanied by a string of attacks on Shi'ite targets that have stirred worries Iraq could slide back in the kind of sectarian slaughter that killed tens of thousands of Iraqis a few years after the invasion.

(Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Jim Loney)