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Egypt presses Iraq's Maliki on reconciliation

By Abdel-Latif Wahba Reuters - Sunday, April 22

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt pressed Iraq at talks on Sunday to work harder to secure reconciliation between the country's various groups and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said relations with Egypt should be better.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, like several other Sunni Muslim leaders, has shown signs of wariness towards Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated government, which has resisted some Sunni calls that it revise the constitution and redistribute power.

Maliki, beginning a tour of Arab countries in Cairo to prepare for two conferences on Iraq in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in early May, met Mubarak and Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif.

"Egypt ... urges (the Iraqi government) to make more effort to reach reconciliation between all sections of society," Nazif told a news conference.

Maliki said sectarian violence between Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim majority and Sunnis, once-dominant under Saddam Hussein, had been "brought under control to a large extent".

"What's happening now is acts by the al Qaeda organisation ... the only acts of violence left in the political arena are those carried out by al Qaeda and its allies," he said.

Maliki said relations with Egypt should be more positive. "The meeting (with Mubarak) ... reviewed the problems and obstacles which stand in the way of these relations," he said.

Nazif said: "Egypt stands strongly on the side of Iraq and by every means backs it in achieving peace and stability."

In an interview last year, Mubarak cast doubt on the national loyalty of Iraqi Shi'ites, provoking criticism in Iraq. Egyptian government newspapers have also portrayed Shi'ite Iran as an aggressive power seeking to expand its influence through its relationship with Iraq's Shi'ite community.

But Mubarak shares the Iraqi government's opposition to al Qaeda, which is led by and draws support from Sunnis.

Maliki and Nazif agreed to encourage Egyptian companies to return to do business in Iraq, especially those with experience in the country before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Few Egyptian companies have returned, mainly because they do not feel Iraq is safe enough. A number of Egyptians have been kidnapped and an Egyptian diplomat has been murdered.

The first Sharm el-Sheikh conference, scheduled for May 3 has been called to discuss an internationally backed plan to reconstruct Iraq over five years.

The second conference the next day is a ministerial meeting involving Iraq and its neighbours, mainly on security, borders, refugees and how to restore peace and stability in the area.

Maliki is also expected to visit the Gulf states of Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

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