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Saudi FM says Iraqis support Riyadh-sponsored talks

US and Iraqi forces free hostages from Baghdad church
Baghdad (AFP) Oct 31, 2010 - Iraqi and US forces stormed a Baghdad church on Sunday and freed a group of hostages held by gunmen, a member of Iraq's anti-terrorist unit told AFP. "We came here to help the police and army free the hostages, and we released them with the help of the Americans," he told AFP. An AFP reporter saw US soldiers at the scene. An Iraqi soldier said all the gunmen had been killed, but it was not immediately clear if some of the hostages or security personnel had also died in the operation. An interior ministry official said the gunmen had been holding around 40 worshippers hostage and that forces were preparing for a raid. Loud explosions and gunfire were heard shortly after.

Gunmen kill two guards at Baghdad stock exchange
Baghdad (AFP) Oct 31, 2010 - Two guards at Baghdad's stock exchange were killed in clashes with gunmen trying to battle their way into the building on Sunday, an Iraqi interior ministry official said. "Four gunmen tried to force their way into the Baghdad stock exchange. Clashes erupted when the guards tried to stop them, and two guards were killed," the official said. He said the attackers detonated a bomb in a vehicle parked close, wounding four civilians, then fled on foot to the nearby Sayidat al-Nejat church, which was among six targeted by deadly car bombings on August 1, 2004. Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim Atta said police had surrounded the church, although it was not immediately clear if the gunmen were still inside. Residents of the Karada district where the drama unfolded said they heard a large explosion and gunfire. Violence has abated in Iraq since its peak in 2006-2007, but deadly bombings, gunfights and kidnappings are still routine.
by Staff Writers
Riyadh (AFP) Oct 31, 2010
Iraqi political leaders have signalled support for a Saudi proposal to host talks aimed at resolving the political deadlock in Baghdad, the kingdom's foreign minister said on Sunday.

Despite no high-level official Iraqi reaction yet to King Abdullah's call for talks in Riyadh, "what we have heard is general support for the initiative," Prince Saud al-Faisal said.

"They appreciate the initiative," he said, though he acknowledged that Iraq's political parties were also pursuing their own initiatives to resolve the nearly eight-month-old deadlock.

King Abdullah on Saturday invited Iraq's political leaders to meet in Riyadh after the mid-November Eid al-Adha holiday to bridge their differences and agree on the formation of a government.

Iraq has been without a new government since a March 7 election in which the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc led by former premier Iyad Allawi won 91 seats, followed by incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law with 89.

Despite intense back-room negotiations, neither side has been able to muster the 163 seats required for a majority in Iraq's 325-member parliament.

Speaking to reporters, Prince Saud said Riyadh and Arab League sponsors of talks in Riyadh would only serve as facilitators. "Saudi Arabia is not going to be an observer or take any part," he said.

He added there were no preconditions and no time-limit was being set for the discussions, and that Saudi Arabia "will support any solution reached by the parties."

Asked whether Iran, Riyadh's rival for influence in Iraq, would be welcome as an observer or participant, Saud replied: "There is no intention for any international presence in these meetings, (they) are only for the Iraqis."

Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia has backed Allawi against fellow Shiite Maliki, whom they had long seen as too close to majority-Shiite Iran.

But Riyadh and other regional governments have grown concerned at the impasse and the effect it could have on Iraq's overall stability in the wake of the scheduled total withdrawal of US combat troops at the end of next year.

In Baghdad, an MP close to Maliki, who is seeking to keep his job, scorned the invitation on Saturday.

"This Saudi initiative is not positive, and that country does not have a role to play because it has not been neutral in recent years; it has always had a negative attitude" toward Maliki, Sami al-Askari said.

earlier related report
Lebanese PM urges Iraqis to accept Saudi invitation
Kuwait City (AFP) Oct 31, 2010 - Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Sunday urged Iraqi political parties to accept the Saudi invitation to meet in Riyadh to resolve their political deadlock.

"We have been pleased to hear (Saudi) King Abdullah's invitation to Iraq's political leaders to resolve Iraqi problems under the umbrella of the Arab League," Hariri said in a keynote address at the Kuwait Financial Forum.

"We advise our brothers in Iraq not to miss this golden opportunity," the Lebanese premier said.

The Saudi king called on Iraqi leaders to meet in Riyadh after the Eid al-Adha holiday "under the umbrella of the Arab League to seek a solution to the problem of forming a new government, which has taken too long."

The invitation did not specify a date, only saying the talks should take place following Eid, which falls on November 16, and after the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca from November 14-18.

In Baghdad, an MP close to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is seeking to keep his job, scorned the invitation.

"This Saudi initiative is not positive, and that country does not have a role to play because it has not been neutral in recent years; it has always had a negative attitude toward (Maliki) and (his) State of Law" bloc, Sami al-Askari said.

Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish MP, said Iraqis should sort out their own problems.

Iraq has been without a government since a March 7 election in which the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya bloc of former premier Iyad Allawi, who is jockeying to get back his old job, won 91 seats. Maliki's State of Law won 89.

Despite intense back-room negotiations, neither side has been able to muster the 163 seats required for a majority in Iraq's 325-member parliament.

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