Iraq’s main Sunni Arab bloc has ended its boycott of the Shi’ite-dominated parliament, officials said on Thursday, in a positive sign for the country’s faltering attempts at national reconciliation.The return of the Accordance Front comes at a time when Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is under growing pressure from Washington to push through laws aimed at quelling violence and reconciling majority Shi’ites and minority Sunni Arabs.
In the latest in a series of abuse allegations against American forces in Iraq, the U.S. military said on Thursday two soldiers had been charged with murdering an Iraqi last month near the northern city of Kirkuk.
The Accordance Front began its boycott in June in protest against the ousting of one of its senior members, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, as parliament speaker. It said he would be reinstated.
“Mashhadani is back, we are back,” said Saleem al-Jubouri, a spokesman and lawmaker for the bloc.
“We also felt we have some very important legislation that needs to be dealt with.”
Mashhadani later presided over a meeting of parliament where the main political blocs said they welcomed the Front’s return as a positive step.
A separate ban on attending Maliki’s cabinet meetings remains in place, however. The Front quit the cabinet last month in anger over legal action against one of its ministers.
Washington has been urging Iraq for months to pass important laws aimed at drawing Sunni Arabs more firmly into the political process. Only one of the drafts has reached parliament.
Such laws would have little meaning for reconciliation if they were debated and passed without the 44 members of the Accordance Front in the 275-seat parliament.
A bloc of 30 parliamentarians loyal to fiery Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr also ended a boycott of parliament earlier this week after winning assurances from the government that sacred shrines would be better protected.
ACCUSATIONS OF MURDER
Incidents of U.S soldiers illegally killing people since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 have enraged ordinary Iraqis.
The U.S. military said in a statement that Sergeant 1st Class Trey Corrales, from San Antonio, Texas, and Specialist Christopher Shore, from Winder, Georgia, were each charged with one count of premeditated murder.
The killing of the Iraqi was alleged to have taken place about June 23 near the northern city of Kirkuk, where the two soldiers were serving with the 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, the statement said.
It gave no details of the incident.
Some of the most widely publicized cases include the killing of 24 unarmed Iraqis in 2005 by U.S. Marines in the town of Haditha, and the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl in Mahmudiya in March 2006.
On Wednesday, a military jury in California found a U.S. Marine guilty of conspiring to kidnap and kill an Iraqi man, who was shot dead last year.
In fresh violence, the military said a U.S. soldier was killed by small arms fire south of the capital, the sixth military death announced on Thursday. A Baghdad roadside bomb killed four U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter on Wednesday and a soldier was killed south of the capital on Tuesday.
Their deaths lift the number killed since the U.S. invasion to 3,628 and come after Democrats in the U.S. Senate failed in an overnight bid to impose a date for a U.S. troop withdrawal.
U.S. and Iraqi forces have launched a major security clampdown in and around the capital and commanders warn that casualties may rise as troops tackle riskier neighborhoods.
The previous three months were the bloodiest for U.S. forces since the war began, with 331 personnel killed.
U.S. President George W. Bush, under pressure to change the course of a war that is increasingly unpopular at home, says he is waiting for a September progress report from his top men in Iraq, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.