Sunnis Return to Iraqi Parliament

The Associated Press
Thursday, July 19, 2007; 4:41 PM

BAGHDAD -- Sunni legislators returned to Iraq's parliament Thursday after a five-week boycott, raising hopes the assembly can make progress on power-sharing bills demanded by Washington before the lawmakers take a month's break.

But the return of the Sunnis and a hard-line Shiite faction loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr could also signal problems for many of the bills, including the oil law, which is a top U.S. priority.

The 44 members of the Iraqi Accordance Front attended Thursday's parliament session after striking a deal with the Shiites and Kurds to reinstate the Sunni speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who was ousted by the Shiite-dominated assembly last month for erratic behavior.

Under a face-saving formula, al-Mashhadani is expected to resign after presiding over a few sessions. One official said al-Mashhadani was to step down Wednesday or parliament will force him out. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

"We all have to work together to rescue Iraq from the catastrophe which has befallen it," Sunni leader Adnan al-Dulaimi told parliament. "This is the first step in solving the Iraqi problem and in stopping the bloodshed."

The Sunnis returned to the 275-member parliament two days after al-Sadr's 30 lawmakers ended their boycott. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government accepted the Sadrists' demands for rebuilding a Shiite shrine damaged by bombings.

The two boycotts had paralyzed the legislature, which is under strong criticism from the Americans for failing to approve key legislation and for plans to take a month's vacation in August at a time when U.S. and Iraqi troops are fighting and dying on the battlefield.

The U.S. command said five more U.S. soldiers were killed _ four of them and their Iraqi interpreter in a bombing Wednesday in east Baghdad and another by small arms fire Thursday near the village of Rushdi Mullah, southwest of the capital.

Both the Sunnis and the al-Sadr bloc are still refusing to attend Cabinet meetings. And it is also far from certain whether the return of those two factions means approval of major legislative benchmarks can be assured.

For example, several members of al-Sadr's bloc have said they intend to oppose the current draft of the oil bill, which would regulate the country's huge petroleum resources. Companion legislation would distribute oil revenues among all Iraqis, ensuring Sunnis a fair share for their oil-poor regions.

The Kurds also oppose the draft, saying it infringes on their constitutional right to a major role in managing fields and controlling revenues in their northern region. Many Sunnis believe the bill gives too much power to regions.

Al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press the Sunnis had questions about the draft and he did not expect the bill to be debated until September.

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