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Iraqi blocs boycott conference

Wed., March 19, 2008

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Shiite and Sunni blocs in parliament boycotted a conference on Iraqi reconciliation Tuesday, as Vice President Dick Cheney traveled north to meet with Kurdish leaders.

Members of the main Sunni parliament coalition Tawafuq refused to attend the two-day conference because of complaints about the Shiite-dominated government.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s bloc walked out of the conference, saying they did not want a ceremonial presence. The same went for Sheikh Ali Hatem Sulaiman, a representative of Sunni tribes that rose up against al-Qaida in Iraq.

The boycott was symptomatic of the rifts and enmity among Iraqi parties, which are organized along ethnic and religious lines and have delayed progress in sharing power among the country’s Shiite majority and the formerly ruling Sunnis.

Cheney, on the second day of a visit, looked to push for a resolution to Iraq’s political woes as he headed to Kurdistan, where he met with the Kurdistan regional government’s president, Massoud Barzani.

“We are certainly counting on President Barzani’s leadership to help us conclude a new strategic relationship between the United States and Iraq as well as advance crucial pieces of national legislation in the months ahead,” Cheney said before departing Iraq for Oman.

Cheney’s aides had told reporters on the way to Iraq that the vice president wanted to see progress on passing Iraq’s oil law. The legislation is in limbo amid a fight between Kurds and Arab nationalists about whether the law will allow regional governments to sign their own contracts with foreign oil companies to develop fields.


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