Factions agree to rejoin govt: Maliki

Posted in Iraq | 25-Apr-08 | Source: Gulf in the Media

Parties that walked out of Iraq's government last year have agreed to rejoin, Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki said yesterday, in what could amount to a long-awaited political breakthrough.

The main Sunni Arab bloc, the Accordance Front, said it intended to submit a list of candidates for cabinet positions within days and could be back in Maliki’s government soon. Its return has long been a major goal of the United States.

But Maliki also repeated a warning that militia groups must disarm, a sign he is unlikely to reconcile quickly with Shia leader Moqtada Al Sadr and his political movement.

“Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki said that reconciliation has proved a success and all political blocs will return to the government,” Maliki’s office said in a statement after Maliki met visiting British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.
The Accordance Front quit Maliki’s Shia-led government last year at a time when most violence in Iraq pitted minority Sunni Arabs against majority Shi’ites.

But violence between those two communities has declined dramatically over the past year, and the Front signalled it was drawing closer to Maliki by backing his crackdown on Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia, begun last month.

Front spokesman Salim Al Jubouri said the group intended to submit a list of candidates for cabinet posts “in a few days,” which the cabinet could then present to parliament.

“Our return to the government is very close,” he said.

A return of the Front would effectively unite the leaders of all of Iraq’s major political groups apart from the Sadrists, who argue a government crackdown on militias is an attempt to sideline them ahead of provincial elections in October.

Sadr pulled his six ministers from Maliki’s government a year ago after Maliki refused to set a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops. That rift deepened last month when Maliki, also a Shia, ordered a crackdown on the Mehdi Army.

“For us, this government has lost its credibility as a government of national unity. It does not represent all the sects of Iraq and we are not ready to join a government which is a threat to the new Iraq,” Sadr bloc member of parliament, Ahmed Al Masoudi said.

Maliki made clear he intends to continue the crackdown.

“It is forbidden to practice peaceful political activity while carrying arms. Everyone should work as politicians and it is not permitted for a single weapon to be outside the hands of the state,” the statement from the prime minister’s office said.

Miliband, on an unannounced visit, said Britain supported the crackdown, which was launched in Basra, a city formerly patrolled by British troops.
“Over the last few weeks, the government ... has taken decisive steps to extend security in key parts of the country,” he said. Britain has around 4,000 troops stationed at an airbase on the outskirts of Basra. It has delayed pulling out 1,500 of them in the wake of Maliki’s crackdown.

While fighting has eased in Basra, source of most of Iraq’s oil exports, clashes have taken place every day in and around Sadr’s eastern Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City.

Meanwhile, a guard at Poland’s embassy in Baghdad was lightly injured yesterday in mortar or rocket attack by unidentified assailants, Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said yesterday in Warsaw.

“Just after 1400 Warsaw time (1200 GMT), a mortar shell or a rocket fell on our embassy in Baghdad,” Sikorski said.

Suffering from shock the wounded guard and four others were transferred to a nearby US military hospital, Sikorski said.

“The terrorists are not achieving their objectives. The calendar of our Iraq mission has not changed,” Sikorski said yesterday.

Poland deployed 2,600 troops in Iraq in 2003, shortly after the US toppled the regime of Iraqi Prresident Saddam Hussein. Poland’s new liberal government has named October 31, 2008 as the deadline for the withdrawal of 900 Polish soldiers remaining in Iraq.

A total of 22 Polish troops have died in Iraq.