BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s main Sunni Arab political bloc said on Wednesday it had suspended talks to rejoin the Shi’ite-led government after a disagreement with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki over a cabinet post.
Persuading the bloc to rejoin has been a main aim of U.S. policy in Iraq and is widely seen as a vital step in reconciling the country’s factions after years of conflict. Sunni Arabs have little voice in a cabinet dominated by Shi’ites and Kurds.
“We have suspended negotiations with the government and pulled out our candidates,” said Salim al-Jibouri, spokesman for the Accordance Front. He said the decision was taken after Maliki objected to a candidate for a cabinet position.
The Accordance Front pulled out of Maliki’s national unity government in August, demanding the release of mainly Sunni Arab detainees in Iraq’s jails and calling for a greater say in security matters.
Since becoming prime minister in May 2006, Maliki has faced constant criticism from Iraq’s minority Sunni Arab community that he has promoted the interests of the majority Shi’ites ahead of the country’s other sectarian and ethnic groups.
But he won praise from Sunni Arab politicians after launching a crackdown on Shi’ite militias in Baghdad and the southern oil city of Basra. The government has also begun releasing Sunni Arab prisoners under a new amnesty law.
Jibouri said the Accordance Front drew up a list of candidates for six cabinet posts to hand to the government for approval but Maliki rejected the nomination for the Planning Ministry.
Maliki refused to give the Sunni bloc an extra government post as a compromise, said Jibouri.
Officials from Maliki’s office were not immediately available for comment.
A statement on Tuesday from the office of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab and a senior member of the Accordance Front, said he had told reporters in Jordan the talks would succeed despite disagreements.
“We achieved significant progress on returning to the government although there are some differences in points of view over some ministries and candidates,” said Hashemi.
“And we hope that in the coming days that this will be resolved and the Accordance Front will return to the national unity government.”
Sunni Arabs were dominant under Saddam Hussein and insurgents have drawn support from the community.