BAGHDAD, Aug 16: Iraq’s top Shia and Kurdish leaders formed a new political alliance on Thursday to salvage Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s embattled government, but without rival Sunni leaders.

Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Maliki, a Shia, announced the new alliance between mainstream Shia and Kurdish parties, but the deal made no mention of Sunnis.

However, Maliki said the doors were still open to the disenchanted Sunni faction which left his Shia-dominated government on Aug 1.

The latest initiative comes less than a month before top US officials in Iraq submit a progress report to Congress which would determine Washington’s future strategy in the war-torn country.

“Signing this agreement will help solve many problems in the present crisis and encourage the others to join us,” Talabani told a joint news conference with the premier.

Maliki’s government has been paralysed by the decision of the main Sunni political bloc – the National Concord Front – to withdraw its ministers from the cabinet during a power sharing dispute with Maliki’s Shia supporters.

The new deal formalised an alliance between Maliki’s Dawa party, Vice-President Adel Abdel Mahdi's Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Massud Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party (PDK).

But Sunni Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi and his National Concord Front boycotted talks which led to the new bloc’s creation, and the government remains bitterly split along sectarian and ethnic lines.

“This is a patriotic agreement which was not struck in the interests of the signing parties but in those of the Iraqi people and the government of national unity and the march of democracy in Iraq,” Talabani said.

Maliki expressed his readiness to win Sunni support, a key demand from Washington which wants the ousted elite re-engaged in the country’s political process in a bid to sever its alleged support for insurgents.

“The doors are still open to all those who agree with us that the political process must go ahead,” Maliki said.

“Our brothers in the two Kurdish parties have exerted efforts (to win the Sunnis’ support). We would also exert efforts to get their participation in the political process as basically our government represents all Iraqi people.” Lawmaker Mahmud Othman, a Kurd, said the new power structure had been under consideration for a “long time and would form a government of majority”. The alliance would “bring together like-minded people who want to work for a common goal,” Othman said, adding that so far attempts to bring in Hashemi had failed.

Leaders of Iraq’s divided Shia, Kurdish and Sunni communities have often clashed on security, political and social issues, leading to delays in the passage of crucial laws aimed at rebuilding the country.

Washington has warned Iraq’s leaders to work harder on unity, concerned that the political stalemate could torpedo efforts to reconcile the warring factions and undermine the work of 155,000 American troops to end the conflict.

Since the US-led invasion of March 2003, Iraq has plunged into an abyss of overlapping civil conflicts that have divided its rival religious and ethnic communities, leaving tens of thousands of civilians dead.

Shia parties suspect Sunni leaders, whose minority sect dominated political power under executed former dictator Saddam Hussein, of supporting insurgents.

Sunni leaders accuse the Shia parties of ties with powerful neighbour Iran and condemn their alleged complicity with Shia militias.—AFP



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