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Key Iraqi Sunni Politician Decides Not to Boycott March Election

With a little more than a week before Iraq holds parliamentary elections on March 7, a key Sunni politician announced Thursday that he would not to boycott the vote and the government decided to allow members of Saddam Hussein's military to rejoin the army.

Key Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlaq announced that he was suspending last week's decision to boycott the election and rejoining the non-sectarian coalition of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

After many meetings with leaders of the coalition, and after input from his supporters, al-Mutlaq said he decided not to give in to those who are trying to ruin his coalition's plans. He said, he would resume campaigning alongside former Prime Minister Allawi.

Mr. Allawi, whose Iraqiya coalition was poised to make a strong showing in the election if the electoral process runs smoothly, thanked al-Mutlaq for his decision and insisted that he would not give in to people trying to unfairly influence the outcome of the election.

Mr. Allawi said his coalition is united and determined to enter the fray of the political campaign and defeat the forces that have been trying to damage the political process by making false accusations against politicians to ban them from running.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made a major concession to the Sunni Arab community by agreeing to a plan to allow members of former ruler Saddam Hussein's army to rejoin the military. The move appears designed to counter weeks of ill-feeling over the decision by a parliamentary committee to ban key Sunni politicians from running in the election.

Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askeri explained to Alhurra television that the move had been repeatedly delayed due to a lack of funding.

He said the issue of reintegrating former Iraqi Army personnel into the army has been a thorny matter that the military has been working on since June of 2008. He said that there was no money to implement a plan to resolve the problem, last year, but that funds had finally become available.

Meanwhile, in Anbar province, which has been the scene of numerous bombings since December, Iraqi security forces say they seized a vehicle loaded with a ton of explosives that was intended to be exploded on election day.

Anbar province security chief General Baha Hussein al-Qeissi called the foiled plot a major breakthrough.

He said that those involved in planning the attack were captured and are being interrogated. He added that they belong to al-Qaida and the Ba'ath Party of former ruler Saddam Hussein.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government announced that it will step up security for the Christian community in the violence-racked northern city of Mosul, following a rash of killings in recent weeks.