Iraq’s main Sunni Muslim political bloc is on the verge of rejoining the Shia-led government after a year-long boycott, a step widely seen as vital to reconciling the nation’s warring factions.
Sunni leaders said on Tuesday they had suggested who could fill five cabinet posts and the position of deputy to Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister. He plans to submit them to a parliamentary vote but it was unclear when that would occur.
The bloc withdrew from the government last August over demands that included the release of Sunni detainees from Iraq’s prisons and constitutional reform.
Sunni leaders said the government had done enough to address their core conditions, including passing an amnesty law that has freed thousands of Sunni detainees this year. The leaders said they were also encouraged by the government’s efforts in tackling Shia militia, most prominent among them the Mahdi Army of the radical Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr.
“We feel that a great deal of them [the demands] have been fulfilled,” said Salim Abdullah al-Jubori, a spokesman for the Sunni bloc, known as the Tawafuq Front.
If Sunni politicians return to government, it would mark a political victory for Mr Maliki and achieve a key US policy goal. The Sunni would have a greater voice in decision making in a cabinet currently dominated by Shia and Kurd members.
But previous deals to bring the bloc back into the government failed after disputes over which ministries should be Sunni-run. The Sunni are seeking control of five ministries – culture, higher education, planning, women’s affairs and the state ministry for foreign affairs, said Sunni leaders.
The most contentious had been the ministry of planning, the most influential of these ministries. It is currently led by Ali Baban, who abandoned the Sunni bloc in order for him to remain in his post.
It is likely to remain contentious. Mr Jubori said that the planning ministry would revert to the bloc’s control, which would place Mr Baban’s future in question. “The ministry of planning is going to be one of our ministries,” he said.
An Iraq government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, told Reuters that the Sunni bloc would not be handed control of the planning ministry, an indication that current negotiations could still fall through.
“There has been agreement with the Accordance [or Tawafuq] Front that their share will be six ministerial posts, except the post of the planning ministry, which will be decided later,” he said.
Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister, urged lawmakers, in an address to parliament on Tuesday, to sign a new security agreement that would permit US troops to remain in Iraq after a United Nations mandate expires this year. Mr Zebari recently met President George W. Bush in Washington to discuss the pact.
Iraqis from across the nation’s political divide are concerned that the pact would allow the US to continue to exert power and impinge on Iraq’s sovereignty. Mr Zebari told lawmakers that any agreement would last one or two years.
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