January 26, 2008 / 8:46 PM / 12 years ago

Iraq's Maliki urges Sunni Arab bloc to rejoin govt

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s prime minister urged ministers from the main Sunni Arab bloc on Saturday to return to their vacant government posts, suggesting he would soon form a new cabinet if they refused.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki gestures as he speaks during a visit to Kerbala, 110 km (70 miles) south of Baghdad January 25, 2008. Maliki urged ministers from the main Sunni Arab bloc on Saturday to return to their vacant government posts, suggesting he would soon form a new cabinet if they refused. REUTERS/Mushtaq Muhammad

The Accordance Front quit Nuri al-Maliki’s national unity government in August, leaving the Shi’ite-led administration comprised almost solely of Shi’ites and Kurds. The move underscored the deep divisions among Iraq’s leaders.

But after parliament voted this month to allow members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party to return to government jobs, a Sunni Arab demand, Accordance Front officials have said the bloc was ready to return to the cabinet.

In an interview broadcast on Iraq’s al-Furat television station late on Saturday, Maliki indicated time was running out.

He said the presidency council had given him two weeks to entice the Front and other parties that quit his cabinet, such as the Iraqi National List of former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi, to return. The council comprises the country’s president and two vice presidents.

“Political talks are continuous. We wish that the other blocs, not only the Accordance Front, but the Iraqi List, will rejoin the government,” Maliki said in the interview.

“I was given two weeks to find a solution. A week remains. The final solution is either the ministers of the Accordance Front and the Iraqi List return or (we) form a new government.”

Maliki has regularly floated the idea of creating a new cabinet that he has said should be comprised of technocrats.

His current administration, weakened by the walkouts and infighting between political blocs who treat ministries as personal fiefdoms, has made little progress in improving the lives of ordinary Iraqis despite better security.

The withdrawal by the Accordance Front hurt efforts to draw the minority Sunni Arab sect, which was dominant under Saddam, closer into the political process.

The Front had said it would not return until a list of demands were met, including greater Sunni representation in the government and the release of mainly Sunni Arab security detainees, though it has appeared more flexible in recent weeks. Parliament is debating a bill to free thousands of prisoners.

Writing by Dean Yates; Editing by Michael Winfrey

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