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Iraq's Main Sunni Bloc Ends Boycott of Government


Iraq's main Sunni bloc has ended an almost year-long boycott of the country's Shi'ite-led government, a major step toward political reconciliation.

The bloc, known as the Iraqi Accordance Front, agreed to return after parliament Saturday approved six Sunni officials to fill Cabinet openings created when a Shi'ite bloc left the government last year.

The Sunni bloc also withdrew from the government last year after political disputes.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he wants to reduce the number of British troops in Iraq but refused to set an "artificial" timetable for their withdrawal.

He spoke after arriving in Baghdad Saturday and holding talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Mr. Brown said the top goal of British forces in Iraq is to train Iraqi troops until they can control the territory they are responsible for and protect the Iraqi people.

The British prime minister later left for the southern city of Basra. Britain's 4,000 troops in Iraq are based at an airport outside Basra.

Earlier this week, the head of Britain's armed forces, Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup, told the British Broadcasting Corporation that Britain plans to withdraw several thousand troops from Iraq next year.

Officials say Mr. Brown is expected to use the visit to push for investments in the Iraqi economy, particularly in Basra.

In other news, the U.S. military says coalition forces detained 21 suspected terrorists during operations in central and northern Iraq targeting al-Qaida fighters and other extremists.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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