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Sunni Arab Legislators End Boycott of Iraqi Parliament

Sunni Arab legislators have ended their five-week boycott of Iraq's parliament, raising hopes the assembly can move forward on legislation viewed as crucial to national reconciliation. From Iraq, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Iraq's largest Sunni Arab bloc, the Accordance Front, returned to parliament Thursday after a boycott fueled by the removal last month of the Sunni speaker, Mahmoud Mashhadani.

The parliament removed Mashhadani after he argued with a Shi'ite colleague and made accusations against him. There were also reports of fighting between the two men's bodyguards.

Salim Abdullah Jabbouri, spokesman for the Accordance Front, says the bloc ended its boycott after receiving calls from other political groups. He added that the restoration of Mashhadani as speaker was a condition for the bloc's return.

Accordance Front head Adnan al-Dulaimi told parliament that parliament members must cooperate to solve the nation's problems and serve the needs of the people.

There was no mention of whether the Accordance Front's six ministers would return to the cabinet.

The bloc holds 44 of the legislature's 275 seats, and their absence has contributed to the political paralysis gripping the government.

The bloc's return comes two days after Shi'ite deputies loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ended their boycott of parliament. Their return came after an agreement was reached to rebuild the Shi'ite shrine at Samarra, badly damaged in two separate bomb attacks.

But the Sadr bloc's six ministers, who left the cabinet in April, still have not returned, and a vote is expected in parliament next week to name their replacements.

The return of both the Sunni and Shi'ite deputies reignites hopes that the legislature can get down to the business of passing key laws aimed at promoting national reconciliation. Those laws include a controversial oil and gas bill, as well as legislation governing the return to public life of members of the former Baath party of ousted president Saddam Hussein.

In a separate development, the U.S. military announced Thursday that two American soldiers have been charged with the premeditated murder of an Iraqi national.

The alleged murder occurred June 23, near the northern city of Kirkuk. The soldiers' battalion commander was relieved of his command in connection with the investigation although he is not a suspect and has not been charged. No other details were released.

Also Thursday, the military reported the deaths of five more American soldiers. Four soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter were killed Wednesday in a roadside bomb blast in eastern Baghdad. A fifth soldier was killed by small arms fire Thursday south of the capital.