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Iraq leaders prepare for crisis summit

Leaders from Iraq's divided communities held talks on Tuesday to pave the way for a crisis summit called by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in a bid to salvage his crumbling unity government.

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, the senior Sunni Arab in the government, met Massud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq, and was set to meet other Kurdish leaders on Wednesday.

"The presence of Mr Massud Barzani is necessary to reach a common vision on the disputed issues," Hashemi's office quoting the vice president, a critic of Maliki's alleged sectarian bias, as saying during the meeting.

Hashemi said members of his Iraqi Islamic Party, part of the Sunni political bloc that quit the government, would also hold meetings with leaders from regional Kurdish parties on Wednesday before a summit later this week.

An alliance of Kurdish politicians is the second biggest power in the Iraqi parliament, and is seen as a key power broker between the dominant Shiite coalition to which Maliki belongs, and the minority Sunnis.

Seventeen ministerial posts in Maliki's Shiite-dominated government are empty or filled by members boycotting cabinet meetings amid protests by many parties at the premier's faltering programme of national reconciliation.

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.

On Monday, the influential Barzani also met Maliki and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to discuss the upcoming meeting of political leaders, for which no precise date has been publicly announced.

The embattled prime minister said only on Sunday that the summit would be held this week, with a view to averting political meltdown faced with a growing number of ministerial boycotts.

Hopes that Maliki's faltering coalition can be saved depend on senior leaders in rival parties cutting a new power-sharing deal that can convince the bitter Sunni minority to return to the fold.

But lawmaker Omar Abdul Sattar from the main Sunni bloc, the National Concord Front that walked out of the coalition on August 1, feared Maliki would blame the opposition parties "for the political mess".

"We are afraid he (Maliki) would throw the ball into the court of the other political blocs," he said.

He also charged that Maliki's call for a summit had "no agenda."

Maliki, Talabani, a Kurd, and Vice President Adel Abdel Mehdi, another Shiite, are expected to attend the crisis summit.

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, and left tens of thousands of civilians dead.

Shiite parties are suspicious of Sunni leaders whose minority sect dominated political power under executed former dictator Saddam Hussein and accuse them of supporting violent insurgent groups.

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

Iraq leaders prepare for crisis summit -  Source

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