Al-Maliki urged delegates to review the law which banned tens of thousands of Saddam's Baath party activists from working in the civil service.

 

"The Iraqi army opens its doors to officers and soldiers from the former army who wish to serve the country," al-Maliki said, adding that pensions for those not brought back would be paid.

 

He also called for a review of the de-Baathification process that lost so many Sunnis their jobs under the old government.

 

These were key concessions and addressed a major grievance of the former military officers and government officials who were fired by the new government.

  

Many attendees, however, had said prior to the conference that a sweeping amnesty would be offered, while the conference spokesman expressed disappointment at the lack of attendees from those against the government.

  

"Nobody from outside Iraq came," acknowledged Naseer al-Ani, a Sunni MP and conference spokesman. "And only a very few from outside the political process in Iraq attended."

 

Security deal

 

In other news, Syria and Iraq's interior ministers on Saturday discussed ways of strengthening co-operation and co-ordination between the two neighbouring countries to combat terrorism and crime, Syria's official news agency said.

 

Bassam Abdul-Majid, the Syrian interior minister, also talked about exchanging fugitives in co-ordination with the two countries' justice ministers with his visiting Iraqi counterpart, Jawad al-Bolani, Sana said.

 

The news agency said the two sides, who were expected to sign a memorandum of understanding in the coming days, agreed to form joint committees to coordinate the issues they discussed.

 

Abdul-Majid said Syria was keen on Iraq's unity and stability and was willing to back all efforts that would help bring security to the wartorn country, Sana reported. He stressed that Syria was doing all it can to help control its border with Iraq by increasing observation posts and patrols.

 

Al-Bolani, who arrived in Damascus on Friday, said Iraq appreciated Syria's efforts and pledged that his country would never be "a launching pad for anything that threatens peace and stability in Syria".

 

US soldiers killed

 

The US military said on Saturday that three soldiers were killed and one wounded by a roadside bomb during a patrol north of Baghdad.

 

A special Iraqi army unit backed by US troops killed one fighter and arrested six people during operations against a death squad leader in a Baghdad Shia stronghold early on Saturday, the US military said.

 

Iraqi police said they had found around 53 bodies in Baghdad in the last 24 hours, nine of them apparently killed execution-style.

 

An Iraqi army officer was killed and three soldiers wounded when a roadside bomb exploded in the Rashad district, 40km south of Kirkuk north of Baghdad.

 

Armed men assassinated tribal sheikh Sattar al-Khadran, the leader of the Bayati tribe in Zuhra village, along with a companion just north of Baquba, police said.

 

Clashes between Iraqi soldiers and fighters killed two civilians, including a woman, and wounded five in Baquba's Ameen neighbourhood, police said.

Police in Baquba sent the bodies of 10 unidentified people, including a woman, to the city's morgue on Friday, hospital official Shakir Ahmed said.

 

Also, armed men killed two policemen when they attacked a checkpoint they were manning near a cemetery in Baquba on Friday night, police said.

 

And in Mosul, a man selling gas canisters used for cooking was shot dead by armed men, police said.

 

Bush worried

 

Tariq al-Hashemi, the Iraqi vice-president, told Al Jazeera on Friday: "President Bush is very worried and annoyed [about the sectarian violence].

   

"He made it clear to me saying, 'we cannot remain silent towards the situation, we cannot accept that Iraqis kill each other. Decisive measures are needed to stop the killings'."

   

The meeting is expected to discuss issues ranging from the presence of US and other foreign troops to sectarian militias.

     

Iraq had held conferences earlier, designed to bring about reconciliation, but they failed to stop sectarian bloodletting or bring into the fold some Sunni groups who have boycotted the US-backed political process.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies