Iraq's Sunni MPs lift their boycott of Maliki cabinet

Baghdad

Ministers from Iraq's Sunni-backed bloc ended their boycott of the cabinet yesterday – a move that could restore some stability to the war-ravaged nation.

The government of the Shia Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, set off the political crisis in December by issuing an arrest warrant against the country's most senior Sunni official, Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, and charged him with running death squads.

Leaders of Mr Hashemi's Sunni-backed Iraqiya coalition accused the Prime Minister of sectarian bias and of trying to push the bloc out of the government to consolidate his own grip on power. In protest, Iraqiya MPs boycotted parliament and Cabinet sessions that brought government work to a halt.

But seeking to defuse the crisis, Iraqiya MPs lifted their the boycott of parliament last week after their Shia rivals claimed their absence was fuelling instability and depriving the coalition's supporters from the Sunni minority of participating in important decisions, such as the proposed $100bn budget that parliament has yet to approve. Maysoun al-Damlouji, a spokeswoman for the Iraqiya group, said Sunni-backed bloc's ministers yesterday attended a session of Mr Maliki's cabinet. She said the decision is Iraqiya's "second good will gesture" in efforts to ease sectarian tensions.

Mr Hashemi denies the charges against him and has fled to the autonomous Kurdish area, beyond the reach of authorities in Baghdad. He refuses to return to the capital for trial, saying that he does not feel safe in the city and is unlikely to receive a fair hearing. He and other Sunni officials allege that the judiciary is not independent of Mr Maliki's government. On Monday, an Iraqiya MP, Haidar al-Mulla, said that prosecutors were seeking to charge him for insulting the judiciary by publicly questioning its independence.

Mr Mulla, a Shia member of the overwhelmingly Sunni Iraqiya coalition, said efforts to strip him of parliamentary immunity to clear the way for his prosecution were part of a "vicious campaign against Iraqiya" that underlined the government's resolve to quash any criticism of Mr Maliki's five-year rule.

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