Iraq’s Sunni Muslim-backed al-Iraqiya alliance accepted President Jalal Talabani’s invitation for a meeting among all political parties to defuse sectarian tensions after lawmakers linked to Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr called for new elections.
“We have no other option. This meeting is to save the political process from collapsing,” Salman al-Jumaili, a senior lawmaker from the Sunni-led group, said today in a phone interview from Erbil. If talks fail, the al-Iraqiya alliance, led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, will join the bid to dissolve parliament and hold early elections, he said.
The talks sought by Talabani and parliament speaker Osama Nujaifi are meant to “resolve all pending issues,” according to a statement posted yesterday on the website of Talabani Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. party The statement set no date for the meeting. Talabani will contact parties for final approval of the gathering, according to the statement.
The al-Ahrar bloc loyal to al-Sadr, an anti-American Shiite cleric, wants a new national vote. The bloc has 39 seats in the 325-member parliament. Tensions between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led allies and Sunni politicians have intensified since a warrant was issued last week for the arrest of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, on terrorism charges.
The infighting comes amid concern that the pullout of U.S. troops left a security vacuum in Iraq, which seeks investment and expertise to develop the world’s fifth-largest crude oil reserves. Bombings on Dec. 23 in mainly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad killed at least 57 people and injured 176.
The U.S. would oppose dissolution of the Iraqi parliament, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said yesterday.
“The political parties need to work out their differences,” Toner said. “There’s an urgency to the situation. These folks need to sit down in a shared fashion and address these issues.”
Al-Hashimi, who fled to the semi-autonomous northern region of Kurdistan, denied all charges on Dec. 20. He questioned the motivation of the accusations and said the case was timed to coincide with the U.S. forces’ withdrawal.
Talabani and Nujaifi “agreed to resolve the issue of Tariq al-Hashimi through judicial measures,” the statement said.
Al-Hashimi’s political bloc, Iraqiya, which draws support from Sunnis, announced the suspension of its participation in parliament on Dec. 17 to protest what it says is the arrest of its members.
Al-Maliki said Dec. 21 that his deputy, Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni who had described him as a dictator in a recent television interview, was on “extended leave.”
Al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia had clashed with Iraqi and U.S. forces, returned to Iraq on Jan. 5 after an absence of almost four years. He has pledged to combat any form of U.S. presence in Iraq, except for an official embassy, beyond the Dec. 31 deadline for the complete withdrawal of American troops.