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World News

April 10, 2010

Iran: Iraq's government must include Sunnis

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iranian ambassador to Baghdad said Saturday that Iraq's new government should include all political blocs — including Sunnis — in a shift for a country that has long advocated an Iraqi government dominated by fellow Shiites.

Hassan Kazemi Qomi's comments were a sign that Iran, which has promoted Shiite power since the fall of Saddam Hussein, recognizes that the March 7 parliamentary vote was simply too close to completely sideline any one political bloc.

"All the blocs must participate," Qomi said at a news conference in Baghdad. "It must be comprehensive."

Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc, which drew on heavy Sunni support, came out two seats ahead in the national vote. But neither Allawi's list nor the Shiite-led bloc of incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which came in second, got enough support to govern alone.

Now the sides are scrambling to cobble together enough backing to form a government.

Iran has played a powerful role in Iraqi politics. Iran and Iraq both have majority Shiite populations, and are bound by strong religious ties. But the two nations fought a ruinous, eight-year war in the 1980s in which a million people were killed or wounded. Memories of that conflict continue to feed mutual suspicion between Iraqis and Iranians.

On Saturday, Qomi said he expected a delegation from the Iraqiya bloc to visit his country, adding that "Tehran's doors are open for all political parties."

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill urged the Iranian ambassador not to interfere in Iraqi politics.

Told of Qomi's comments endorsing Iraqiya as the Sunni voice in the new government, Hill abruptly dismissed the input, saying: "My suggestion to him would be to leave that up to the Iraqis."

Earlier, Hill predicted it would still be months before a new government was up and running, referring to the process as the "dreaded period of government formation."

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