World News

Iraq PM urges parliament to shorten summer break

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has called on parliament to either scrap or shorten its August summer break to pass laws seen as vital to stabilising the country, his office said.

Washington has been pushing Iraq to speed passage of several laws aimed at curbing sectarian violence and healing deep divisions between majority Shi’ites and minority Sunni Arabs.

Only one draft, which governs Iraq’s huge oil reserves, has been submitted but the full legislature has yet to debate it.

Maliki’s office said in a statement over the weekend that the prime minister “hoped parliament would take the initiative and cancel its summer holiday or reduce it to two weeks so that it can help the government in solving outstanding problems”.

The statement was released after Maliki met on Saturday with U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker and other U.S. officials.

“The political progress must go forward. The government must work with parliament to give the Iraqi people something in these difficult times,” the statement said.

The draft oil law aims to ease tension by ensuring Sunnis share in oil profits. Iraq has the world’s third largest oil reserves, but most is in the Kurdish north or Shi’ite south.

Other laws that set provincial elections by the year-end and allow some members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party to return to government and the military also need to be passed.

But parliament is running out of time.

Crocker and the U.S. military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, have to present a report to Washington by September 15 on Iraq’s security and political progress.

The report is being viewed as a political watershed, and a lack of action on the laws is sure to heighten calls from opposition Democrats and also some Republicans for an American troop pullout from Iraq.

Parliament has already shortened its summer break by one month. The initial recess had been scheduled for July and August.