Tuesday, August 28, 2007


A move towards national reconciliation

(The Guardian) - Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, and fellow leaders in the country have reached consensus on key areas of national reconciliation, under mounting US pressure to demonstrate political progress on the eve of a key report to Congress on the Baghdad security "surge". The Shia prime minister appeared on television flanked by Jalal Talabani, the country's Kurdish president, and the Sunni vice-president, Tareq al-Hashemi, to announce a deal on easing restrictions on former members of the Ba'ath party joining the civil service and military.
Easing de-Ba'athification laws passed after the 2003 US invasion has long been seen as a vital step if disenchanted Sunnis, who formed the backbone of Saddam Hussein's regime and, since its fall, of the insurgency, are to be persuaded to take part in Iraqi political life. Agreement was also reported on holding provincial elections and releasing detainees held without charge across the country, two more of the "benchmarks" set by the Bush administration for political movement it hopes will stave off mounting congressional demands for a withdrawal from Iraq.
It was not immediately clear how, or when, these moves would be implemented and how far they would go to reversing the almost total Sunni boycott of the cabinet - the centre of Mr Maliki's difficulties. The beleaguered prime minister, facing mounting criticism from within the Bush administration, announced earlier that Mr Hashemi's Iraqi Islamic party was about to join with the four Shia and Kurdish parties which recently forged an alliance.
Mr Maliki said a committee formed by the parties had reviewed the current political stalemate and "accomplished some solutions". Last week a US national intelligence report cast doubt on Mr Maliki's ability to heal the country's sectarian divide and predicted "the Iraqi government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months".
There were further signs of Mr Maliki's weakening grip on power when the former temporary prime minister, Ayad Allawi, removed his faction from the "unity" government on Saturday and put himself forward as an alternative. The growing pressure on the Iraqi leader comes at a sensitive moment in relations between Washington and Baghdad. The American commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, will soon present Congress with his analysis of the success or otherwise of the so-called "surge".
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence said last night that British forces have withdrawn from a base in Basra that they had shared with Iraqi police in the first phase of a plan to move all troops out of the city centre. A small number of troops had been stationed at the provincial joint coordination centre where they had been helping to train Iraqi police. Control of the facility has now been handed over to the Iraqi army.

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