By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 19, 2007
BAGHDAD, Aug. 18 -- Iraq's top five government leaders began a review of the country's de-Baathification law Saturday but appeared not to have reached an agreement on that topic or any of the other critical issues that have plunged the country into a political crisis.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, met with President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd; Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni; Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shiite; and Massoud Barzani, president of the semiautonomous Kurdish region.
Spokesmen for Hashimi and Abdul Mahdi and a written statement from Talabani's office characterized the meeting as productive but did not provide any specific information about the progress made during the two-hour gathering.
The lack of concrete results from meetings this week diminishes hopes of creating a unified government by Sept. 15, when President Bush and Congress are to receive a report about conditions in Iraq.
Movement on several key pieces of legislation has been stalled for weeks, and the country's minority Sunni politicians have refused to join a new political alliance announced Thursday.
Ali Yass, a spokesman for Hashimi, said the meeting was aimed at preparing for a larger political summit, which Maliki hopes will include leaders from every national political party. That meeting was originally scheduled to open earlier this week but has been repeatedly delayed in favor of more planning meetings among the five top leaders.
"Today, we agreed on a number of matters, the main one being the agenda that should be forwarded to the leaders of the political blocs and whoever will attend the meeting of the political leaders," Talabani's office said in its statement.
Yass said more meetings would be necessary to draft a new de-Baathification law, which is expected to loosen restrictions on former members of Saddam Hussein's political party who want to work in the government or the military.
Another of Iraq's most contentious issues, a proposal to equally divide the country's oil revenue among sects, was not discussed at Saturday's meeting, Yass said. Maliki and the Bush administration consider the oil law crucial to achieving national reconciliation, but several political blocs based in oil-rich areas oppose its passage.
Meanwhile, seven people, including an infant, were killed Saturday when mortar rounds rained down in the town of Khalis, 50 miles north of Baghdad, police said.
At least four people were killed in the northern city of Kirkuk when two car bombs exploded in an outdoor market. Kirkuk has been the site of frequent violence in the past few months as Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen battle for control of the city.
Special correspondents Naseer Nouri and Dalya Hassan contributed to this report.