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The Sunni in Iraq's Shiite leadership

In interview, Tariq al-Hashemi urges greater focus on reconciliation.

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Tariq al-Hashemi says he cringes when he's described as Iraq's Sunni vice president.

Mr. Hashemi, one of two vice presidents – the other, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, is Shiite – says he is trying to reach out to all Iraqis. In September, he met for the first time with Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, the reclusive Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, at his home in the holy Shiite city of Najaf. He also drafted an Iraqi National Compact – his 25-point plan to lessen sectarian and ethnic strife.

At the same time, he remains utterly at odds with the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Indeed, the standoff between the two men underscores the fact that Iraq's political leaders have not capitalized on improved security to advance what US officials here have labeled "top-down reconciliation."

Hashemi points to several grievances. Sunni Arabs, he says, have been unfairly targeted, imprisoned, and tortured. He faults Mr. Maliki's handling of the crisis with Turkey over Kurdish rebels in Iraq's north, noting that a government official told the Turks there were enough Iraqi soldiers to pursue the rebels just after Hashemi had told the Turks the opposite.

Last week, meanwhile, Maliki endorsed the resignation of six cabinet ministers from Hashemi's Sunni political alliance, the Iraqi Accordance Front, who have been boycotting the government since June. That paved the way for their replacement, though the bloc's members remain in parliament.

"The obstacle toward reconciliation today and toward many laws, including the oil and gas, is fear among Iraqis," says Hashemi, referring to the long-stalled proposed law to equitably divide the country's oil riches.

That law remains in limbo, along with numerous other benchmarks devised by Washington earlier this year to measure the Iraqi government's progress.


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