Iraqi leaders pledge unity

Agreement on key laws comes two weeks before status report to US congress.

    The appearance on Iraqi TV of the five leaders
    was a rare show of public unity [EPA file]
    Consensus was also reached on a law governing provincial powers as well as setting up a mechanism to release some detainees held without charge, a key demand of Sunni Arabs since the majority being held are Sunnis.

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    Committees were formed to try to ensure a "balance" of Shia, Sunni Arabs and Kurds in government.
    The appearance on Iraqi television of Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister who is Shia, along with four other leaders at a brief news conference, was a rare show of public unity.
    The other four were Jalal Talabani, the president, who is Kurdish, Sunni vice-president Tareq al-Hashemi; Shia vice-president Adel Abdul-Mahdi, and Masoud Barzani, president of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.
    Barham Salih, Iraq's deputy prime minister, said: "The five leaders representing Iraq's major political communities ... affirmed the principle of collective leadership to help deal with the many challenges faced by Iraq.

    Iraq PM hits out at critics

    "I hope that this agreement will help Iraq move beyond the political impasse."
    The laws need to be passed by Iraq's fractious parliament, which has yet to receive any of the drafts.
    Baath rejection
    But even before that likely difficult process, a purported spokesman for the Baath party dismissed the draft laws, saying his group would not deal with the Iraqi leadership until all US and foreign forces left the country.
    Abu Muhib al-Baghdadi called the proposed legislation a "trap" and said it was "a decision that is non-binding for us".
    He added that the leaders' declaration was an acknowledgment that the Baath was the only party able to get the country out of crisis.

    The US ambassador and military commander
    are to report to the US congress soon [Reuters]

    Yasin Majid, a media adviser to al-Maliki, told Reuters the leaders also endorsed a draft oil law, which has already been agreed by the cabinet but has not yet gone to parliament.
    The oil law is seen as the most important in a package of measures stalled by political infighting in al-Maliki's government.
    But a statement from Talabani's office said more discussions were needed on the draft oil law and constitutional reforms.
    Nonetheless, the show of unity was quickly welcomed by the US, which hopes such moves will ease sectarian violence that has killed tens of thousands.
    US reaction
    The White House said in a statement on Sunday: "We congratulate Iraq's leaders on the important agreement reached today in Baghdad. Today's agreement is an important symbol of their commitment to work together for the benefit of all Iraqis."
    The infighting and the Iraqi leaders' inability to bridge sectarian differences has frustrated Washington, which has been urging more political progress before a pivotal report is presented by the US military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and ambassador Ryan Crocker, to the US congress in September.
    Democrats are likely to use the negligible political progress to press their case for troops to begin pulling out soon.
    George Bush, the US president, is pleading for patience, pointing to the military's apparent success in reducing levels of violence between majority Shia Muslims and minority Sunni Arabs.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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