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Iraq's Sunni Leadership Joins Reconciliation Talks


In Iraq, Sunni leaders have been meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and members of a new Shi'ite, Kurdish alliance in hopes of resolving some of the differences that have blocked political progress in the country. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the Kurdish city of Irbil that Saturday's talks continued on Sunday.

Days after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced a Shi'ite, Kurdish political alliance that would give his government a 181-seat majority in parliament, Sunni leaders agreed to talk about about their differences. Ammar Al Hakim with the Shi'ite party, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, said this is a step in the right direction.

He says he hopes the talks will overcome differences and work to bring all the parties to serve in a national government.

Television news reports in Baghdad said the talks, which included Iraq's president Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, resumed on Sunday and that the Iraqi leaders agreed on an agenda for a summit aimed at saving the country's crumbling unity government.

The Sunni political party of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, the Iraqi Accordance Front Party, withdrew earlier this month from Mr. Maliki's cabinet, effectively blocking the prospect of political reconciliation among Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish parties.

Hashemi attended Saturday's meeting but so far has not announced his party's return to the government.

Sunni leaders have accused Mr. Maliki's government of marginalizing them. Key areas of contention include the sharing of oil revenues and easing restrictions on former members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party so they can serve in the army or civil service.

Salim al-Jubori with the Accordance Front says the talks do not necessarily signal a political breakthrough.

He says the discussion so far has been aimed at fixing what he calls political mistakes of the past, but they do not indicate a return by the Sunni Front to Mr. Maliki's political alliance.

Mr. Maliki, a Shi'ite, is under growing pressure from the United States to repair the divided government and show progress in political reconciliation among Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds.

The Bush administration has been frustrated by the lack of political progress in Iraq as the September deadline for a White House report to Congress on the war approaches.