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Saturday, July 19, 2008

WAR ON TERROR: Sunnis rejoin Iraqi Government!

PatDollard.Com: Reconciliation Despite Democrats’ Promise Surge Wouldn’t Bring It: Sunnis Rejoin Government

BAGHDAD - Iraq’s largest Sunni Arab political bloc returned to the government fold Saturday after calling off a nearly one-year boycott of the Shiite-dominated leadership—another critical stride toward healing sectarian rifts.

The return of the National Accordance Front does more than politically reunite some of Iraq’s main centers of power.

It was seen as a deeply significant advance toward reconciliation and efforts to cement security cooperation between Shiite-led forces and armed Sunni groups that rose up against al-Qaida in Iraq.

The United States has pressured Iraq’s government to work toward settling the sectarian feuds, which brought daily bloodshed until recent months. The hope is that more parties staked in the future of Iraq could mean a quicker exit for U.S. and other foreign forces.

Iraq’s sharply improved security situation is already bringing plans for a pared-down British force.

On a visit to Baghdad, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said plans are being made to scale back troops in Iraq, but refused to consider an “artificial timetable” for withdrawing Britain’s remaining 4,000 soldiers.

Britain’s moves come about four months after Iraqi opened a major offensive in Basra to root out Shiite militias with suspected links to Iran.

The campaign reclaimed wide control over Iraq’s second-largest city and key oil center.

Brown’s visit came on the eve of an expected stop by presidential candidate Barack Obama on the second leg of a tour of the Pentagon’s war zones. Obama spent Saturday in Afghanistan and is later expected to hold talks around the Middle East and Europe.

The break in the Iraqi political impasse came after parliament unanimously backed Sunni candidates to fill the post of deputy prime minister and head five midlevel ministries, including higher education and communications. Four other Cabinet posts were filled by Shiites.

The Front pulled its members from the 39-member Cabinet last August, complaining it was sidelined in important decisions. The political rift left al-Maliki’s government without partners in bids to find common ground with Sunni leaders.

Sunni Arabs, who represent about 20 percent of the country, were highly favored under Saddam Hussein but the tables turned after his ouster when Iraq’s majority Shiites held sway. The rivalries spilled over into a wave of sectarian killings and al-Qaida bombings apparently aimed at triggering civil war.

But Sunni sheiks last year began to organize militias—which came to be known as Awakening Councils—against insurgents. Their role has been considered key in undercutting al-Qaida and helping reduce violence to its lowest levels in four years.

“What happened today is a national step forward to boost the government’s role and take the national reconciliation ahead,” said the bloc’s spokesman, Saleem Abdullah.

Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, hailed the political pact as “a very important step forward.”