Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Sadr calls for talks with Sunnis opposed to Maliki's government

(McClatchy Newspapers) - Both Sunni and Shiite political factions are threatening to withdraw from the already weak government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a prospect that threatens the political accommodations needed to calm Iraq's sectarian warfare. Maliki supporters say the threats are nothing more than the bluster of negotiations and that the prime minister will be able to hold his fragile coalition together.
But Sunni politicians said Tuesday that they're serious about pulling out of parliament over what they say is Maliki's reluctance to share power. Maliki is a Shiite.
Meanwhile, rumors are swirling that loyalists of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also are considering breaking away from the Shiites' United Iraqi Alliance in the legislature, a move that would rob that ruling political bloc of its slim majority. Sadr followers denied that, but they said the cleric has asked them to reach out to rival Sunni groups.
The threat to the Maliki government comes as sectarian violence appears to be on the rise. On five of the last seven days, the number of unidentified bodies found on Baghdad's streets has surpassed 25, a significant increase over previous weeks.
But dissent is coming not only from Sunnis. Sadr, too, was expressing dissatisfaction, which could threaten the government. At issue were Maliki's delay in replacing six Sadrists who walked out of his Cabinet last month to protest the arrests of fighters from Sadr's Mahdi Army and his refusal to set a deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw. Maliki still hasn't named replacements for the six ministers, though an aide said those nominations could come this week.
Now Sadr is calling for talks with Sunnis who are bitterly opposed to the Maliki government, including Harith al-Thari, the head of the Muslim Scholars Association. An aide to Maliki, speaking on condition that his name not be used because of the sensitivity of the topic, said even if Sadr were to withdraw from the United Iraqi Alliance coalition, giving it less than a majority, the prime minister could still triumph in parliament votes.
Kurdish members of parliament would stick with the prime minister on pivotal matters, and his fellow Shiites would be unlikely to bolt.
"The Sadrists would not leave," he said. "There is no other parliamentary bloc they would join." Still Sunni parliament members say the government is reaching a crisis. "It would be unfortunate if we gave Maliki an ultimatum and he either ignored it or was unable to commit to it," said Omar Abdul Sattar, a Sunni member of parliament and a senior member of the Iraqi Islamic Party.

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