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 Iraq leaders to meet in bid to solve political crisis 

 Source : Reuters
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Iraq leaders to meet in bid to solve political crisis  23.7.2007

July 23, 2007

BAGHDAD, --  Iraq's top five political leaders are due to hold a summit this week in an attempt to end a political crisis which has paralyzed the country for months, officials said on Monday.

They told Reuters that Kurdish, Sunni Arab and Shi'ite leaders acknowledge the political impasse and may meet on Friday.

"They will be holding marathon meetings. So far we have the 27th as the date but it is yet to be confirmed," a senior government official told Reuters.

The summit will bring together President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi. It will also involve Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region and a top aide of powerful Shi'ite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.

The government official said the summit may also be extended to include other key figures such as former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi.

The leaders are expected to discuss various issues, including how to agree on amending the constitution.

The identity of the disputed oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk could also be on the agenda, officials said.

Kurds want Kirkuk included in their autonomous Kurdistan region as its capital and want to press ahead with a referendum by the end of the year, but other ethnic groups object. Iraq's constitution stipulates a Kirkuk referendum by year's end.

Maliki's government is under mounting pressure to meet benchmarks set by Washington to end sectarian violence and push for economic and political reforms. But political wrangling among its factions has left it weak and shaky.

Sunni Arab ministers in the government have stopped attending cabinet meetings, while Shi'ite ministers loyal to fiery cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have left the government.

"The situation is very serious and the country is deadlocked, so they need to meet to move things forward," said a senior Shi'ite official, speaking on condition of anonymity.


Behind the scenes there has been talk about reshuffling the government, but some people think this would push Iraq to the brink of collapse because various factions would then argue to scratch issues that had already been agreed on.

Washington has been pushing Iraq to speed passage of several laws aimed at curbing sectarian violence and healing deep divisions between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs.

Only one draft, which concerns Iraq's huge oil reserves, has been submitted, but the full legislature has yet to debate it.

The draft oil law aims to ease tension by ensuring Sunnis share in oil profits. Iraq has the world's third largest oil reserves, but most is in the Kurdish north or Shi'ite south.

Other laws that set provincial elections by the year-end and allow some members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to return to government and the military also need to be passed.

But the Iraqi government is running out of time ahead of a report due in Washington by Sept. 15 on Iraq's security and political progress.

The report, by U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker and military leader General David Petraeus, is being viewed as a political watershed. Lack of action on those benchmark laws is sure to heighten calls from opposition Democrats in Congress and also some Republicans for an American troop pullout from Iraq.



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