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Crisis summit aims to save Iraq's Maliki

The US wants to see clear steps toward national reconciliation.

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With a mid-September deadline looming for the Bush administration to deliver its Iraq progress report to Congress, American diplomats in Baghdad are working in overdrive to prevent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government from total collapse – something that could shatter all efforts to forge a long-elusive national reconciliation.

US Ambassador Ryan Crocker has been in close contact with Iraqi officials in the runup to a crisis summit of leaders, scheduled for this week. He has also met with top Sunni, Kurdish, and Shiite leaders individually.

On Monday, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi met with Mr. Crocker and White House special envoy to Iraq, Meghan O'Sullivan, "to discuss preparations for the upcoming leaders' summit," according to Mr. Hashemi's office.

The US Embassy is offering advice, ideas, and encouragement to make sure that agreements reached by the leaders are specific and meaningful, says an embassy official knowledgeable about the talks.

"Behind the scenes, there is a lot of cajoling and warning. The Americans are very much involved to make sure the Maliki government does not fall," says Rime Allaf of London's Royal Institute of International Affairs, who spoke by telephone from Damascus, Syria.

The current government crisis in Iraq, which is the worst since Iraqis gained sovereignty from the US-led occupation in June 2004, was precipitated three weeks ago by the decision of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the main Sunni Arab bloc to which Vice President Hashemi belongs, to withdraw its six ministers from Mr. Maliki's government.

When asked about the level of American involvement to help keep the government intact, W. Johann Schmonsees, spokesman for the US Embassy in Baghdad, wrote in an e-mail, "The United States strongly supports efforts of the prime minister and other Iraqi leaders to advance national reconciliation as a vital element in ending violence, stabilizing the country, and building democratic institutions."

One much talked about compromise to ease the current political impasse is to create a new council comprised of Iraq's president, his two deputies, and the prime minister that would make decisions aimed at spurring the political process.


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