19 Jul 2008

Sunni Arabs return to Iraq government

9:33 pm on 19 July 2008

Iraq's main Sunni Arab bloc has rejoined the Shi'ite-led government in a breakthrough for national reconciliation after parliament approved its candidates for several ministerial posts.

Getting the bloc to return after it quit the cabinet a year ago in a row over power sharing has been seen as key to healing divisions between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs.

"Today, parliament voted to accept our candidates. This means the Accordance Front has officially returned to the government," the bloc's spokesman, Salim al-Jubouri, said.

"It is a real step forward for political reform."

Sunni Arabs have little voice in the current cabinet, which is dominated by Shi'ites and ethnic Kurds.

Parliament questioned candidates for 10 vacant cabinet jobs, including five ministries and a deputy prime ministerial post that had previously been allocated to the Accordance Front.

The other portfolios were left largely vacant when separate Shi'ite and secular factions quit Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government last year. They will be filled by politicians from other parties.

Mr Maliki had earlier approved the names for all the posts, which are not for any key security positions.

Brown in Iraq

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Saturday, seeking to build on the improved security situation in the country to promote investment.

Iraqi officials said Mr Brown was holding talks with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad.

Mr Brown is expected to hail a reduction in violence in Iraq, particularly in the southern province of Basra, which was under the control of British troops until they handed over to Iraqi forces last December.