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Iran urges Iraq unity government after poll stalemate

Iraq says Saudi backs unity government
Riyadh (AFP) April 11, 2010 - Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on a visit to Saudi Arabia on Sunday said King Abdullah expressed his wish for a government comprising all Iraq's politicians after an indecisive March 7 general election. "The aspiration of all Arabs is that all Iraqis will participate in the running of their country," said the king, according to a statement issued by Talabani's office. "The king said that Saudi Arabia stands at the same distance from all Iraqi parties and that the kingdom supports Iraq without interfering in its internal affairs," the statement added.

Talabani was greeted at Riyadh international airport by Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, the official SPA news agency reported, while politicians in Baghdad continued negotiations over the formation of a new government. Talabani's arrival followed a denial by Saud on Saturday that the Saudi government was meddling in the post-election politicking in Iraq in support of former premier Iyad Allawi. Sunni-led Saudi Arabia is a major regional rival of Shiite-dominated Iran and has been eager to see a reduction in Tehran's influence in Baghdad.

Riyadh has had troubled relations with incumbent Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Maliki and has refused to establish a formal diplomatic representation in the Iraqi capital, citing security concerns. Relations with Allawi, who leads an alliance including Sunni and secular Shiite parties, are believed to be better. The former premier visited Riyadh for talks with King Abdullah on the eve of the March election in which his Iraqiya bloc went on to secure a narrow lead over Maliki's State of Law Alliance. Saud played down the significance of that visit saying that Riyadh welcomes visits by any Iraqi political leaders.

Bomb kills three Iraqi brothers from US-allied militia
Baquba, Iraq (AFP) April 11, 2010 - Three brothers who were members of the US-allied Sahwa "Sons of Iraq" militia that helped tame the nation's insurgency were killed when a roadside bomb engulfed their car on Sunday, officials said. The incident, in which a fourth brother was wounded, occurred around 10:00 am (0700 GMT) in Adhaim in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, said a security official who confirmed the men were Sahwa fighters. A hospital official in the provincial capital Baquba said three brothers had died and a fourth was hurt.

Diyala, which is ethnically and religiously mixed, still sees sporadic attacks despite security improvements elsewhere in Iraq. The Sahwa (Awakening) movement, known as the "Sons of Iraq" by the US army, joined American and Iraqi forces in 2006 and 2007 to fight Al-Qaeda and its supporters, leading to a dramatic fall in violence across the country. Control of the Sahwa passed to Iraq last October, and for the past year their wages -- said to have been cut from 300 dollars under US leadership to 100 dollars -- have been paid, often late, by the Shiite-led government. Recent months have seen a series of apparent revenge attacks on Sahwa members, leaving dozens dead.
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) April 10, 2010
Iran on Saturday called on rival factions in Iraq to form a government of national unity following the indecisive outcome of a March 7 general election and rejected accusations of bias.

The intervention came more than a month after Iraq's election frontrunners failed to win near enough seats to form a government on their own, ushering in possibly months of coalition negotiations.

"None of the successful lists should be pushed aside," Iranian ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi told reporters at a press conference in Baghdad.

"We wish to say that the government should be formed from these lists," he said, according to an Arabic translation of his remarks in Farsi.

"It is clear that none of the successful lists can form a government on its own and that requires an agreement among the various lists," he added.

The ambassador rejected accusations that Shiite-dominated Iran was trying to influence its neighbour through its influence with Iraq's Shiite majority community, which won its way to power in the wake of the 2003 overthrow of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime.

"The decision must be an Iraqi one and Iraqis ... will take only advice from others," the Iranian ambassador said.

Since the election, a series of delegations from Shiite and Kurdish factions have travelled to Tehran for discussions.

The Iranian ambassador said that next week, representatives of the secular bloc of former prime minister Iyad Allawi will also visit the Iranian capital.

Allawi's list swept Sunni Arab provinces to take the largest share of the national vote with 91 parliamentary seats against 89 for the bloc of incumbent premier Nuri al-Maliki in an upset victory.

Both men are locked in protracted bargaining with various political parties to try and gain the 163 seats necessary to form a government.

Christopher Hill, the US ambassador to Iraq, said Tehran should allow Baghdad to make its own choices.

"My suggestion to him would be to leave that up to the Iraqis," Hill told reporters when asked to comment on the Iranian ambassador's remarks.

"We believe that the government will indeed be made in Iraq. It won't be made in some neighbouring country."

The US ambassador said that although the final outcome remained unclear, it was possible a new government would be in place in around two months.

"The timetable will essentially move forward," he said. "We would expect in the next couple of weeks the certification of the elections.

"We would expect a couple of weeks after that the actual seating of the council of representatives and then, after that, it would take about a month -- and it may take more -- but about a month to put together the government."

Hill urged caution on predictions on who would eventually lead a coalition as prime minister.

"It is clear that everybody is talking to everyone and, lo and behold, sometimes people say different things to different people, shocking as that might be," Hill said.

"One has to be a little careful about public pronouncements by various candidates, and even private pronouncements," he added.

"Our sense is that people expect their leaders to get going on this process. I don't expect this will go on and on and on."

The possible kingmakers in a future coalition, the bloc of anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who polled well in last month's election, gaining 39 seats in the new 325-seat parliament, appeared to rule out a deal with Maliki.

"I try not to have a veto against anyone but there is a veto of the people against Maliki," Sadr said in an interview with the Al Jazeera television channel, citing grievances over Maliki's past actions.

"He is lying and he believes his lies," because he announced (two weeks ago) that he released the prisoners," Sadr said, referring to around 2,000 of his followers who are still in jail following Maliki's routing of Sadr's now dormant Mahdi Army militia in 2008.

earlier related report
Saudi denies interfering in Iraq elections
Riyadh (AFP) April 11, 2010 - Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal denied his country boosted Iraq's former premier Iyad Allawi in last month's election, a Saudi-owned newspaper said Sunday.

"We do not interfere in (Iraq's) internal affairs. We support all Iraqis, and Iraq's unity, independence and sovereignty over its territory, and we maintain the same distance from all politicians," Saud told the London-based Asharq Alawsat.

Critics have linked Allawi's visit to Riyadh and meeting with King Abdullah on the eve of the March 7 general election with his Iraqiya bloc's narrow victory over Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law Alliance.

While the Saudis made no direct comments on the polls at the time, relations between Riyadh and Maliki's government have been strained and the Saudis have refused to establish a formal diplomatic representation in Baghdad, citing security concerns.

A centre of Sunni Islam, Saudi Arabia is most concerned about Shiite arch-rival Iran's potential influence over any Baghdad administration.

Observers have speculated that Riyadh could upgrade relations if Allawi, whose Iraqiya has the support of both Sunni Iraqis and some secular Shiites, is successful in forming a parliamentary majority.

On March 30 Allawi accused Iran of conspiring to deny him the premiership, but is now planning to send representatives to Tehran for talks next week, according to Iranian ambassador to Iraq Hassan Kazemi Qomi.

Asked about the post-election visit to Riyadh by representatives of the Sadrist movement loyal to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, Prince Saud said the Saudi government welcomes visits by any Iraqi political leaders.

The Sadrists are being seen as kingmakers as Maliki and Allawi battle to be the first to build a parliamentary majority and form a government.

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Anti-US cleric denounces Iraqi PM at demo
Najaf, Iraq (AFP) April 9, 2010
An anti-US cleric who is in negotiations to form Iraq's next government openly pilloried incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Friday in a message to supporters at a major demonstration. Key figures in the movement of Moqtada al-Sadr gathered in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, 150 kilometres (93 miles) south of Baghdad, hailing a "new era" for the group exactly seven years after Saddam H ... read more

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