Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Al-Hashimi sets deadline to withdraw his entire bloc from government

(CNN) - Iraq's top Sunni official has set a deadline of next week for pulling his entire bloc out of the government -- a potentially devastating blow to reconciliation efforts within Iraq. He also said he turned down an offer by President Bush to visit Washington until he can count more fully on U.S. help. Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi made his comments in an interview with CNN. He said if key amendments to the Iraq Constitution are not made by May 15, he will step down and pull his 44 Sunni politicians out of the 275-member Iraqi parliament.
"If the constitution is not subject to major changes, definitely, I will tell my constituency frankly that I have made the mistake of my life when I put my endorsement to that national accord," he said.
Specifically, he wants guarantees in the constitution that the country won't be split into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish federal states that he says will disadvantage Sunnis.
Al-Hashimi's cooperation with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government is widely seen as essential if there is to be a realistic chance of bridging the Shiite-Sunni divide in Iraq -- one of the key goals of the Bush administration. The withdrawal of the Sunni bloc would unravel months of efforts to foster political participation by Sunnis in Iraq's government. It also would further weaken al-Maliki just weeks after Shiite Cabinet ministers allied with Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr bolted from the government.
Al-Hashimi's Iraqi Islamic Party was key in getting Sunnis out to vote in the December 2005 election. Sunnis had been reluctant to take part in the political process, and many were only convinced to do so with the promise of changes to the Iraqi Constitution. Al-Hashimi said the United States co-signed those changes, and now a year and a half later nothing has been done.
Without a change to the constitution, he said, "The situation would be a disaster for Iraq." He added, "I would like to see the identity of my country, in fact, restored back." Al-Hashimi said he has expressed his concerns to Bush, and that for now he will not travel to the United States unless he knows it will result in action. Al-Hashimi was invited to Washington during a recent phone call with Bush. The Iraqi leader said he was "very clear" to Bush that "our [Sunni] participation is quite unfortunately becoming meaningless." Bush and al-Hashimi have met once before in Washington, in December.
Al-Hashimi said that his patience is running thin with the government's failure to promote reconciliation and that he feels he is not consulted regularly on key decisions. In addition, he said, he sees growing frustrations within the Sunni community that they are being left out of the political process.
If Sunnis aren't an equal partner in the government, he said, they should say "bye-bye to the political process." Asked if that meant all-out civil war with Shiites, he said no. "I'm not saying that I'm going to war," he said, adding he would not encourage his bloc to get involved with "any sort of violence whatsoever." At the same time, he said Sunnis will be "frustrated" and people will "think on other alternatives." But he said he'd also prefer not to reach that point.

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