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Iraq's Al-Maliki Calls For Forgiveness Of Hussein Allies

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, growing in strength as violence fades and Iraq tries to embrace political unity, has called for forgiveness for allies of Saddam Hussein.

"We must reconcile with those committed mistakes, who were obliged in that difficult era to side with the past regime. Today they are again sons of Iraq," al-Maliki told a meeting of tribal leaders in Baghdad.

"We will reconcile with them, but on the condition they come back to us and turn the page on that dark part of Iraq's history.... What happened, happened," he said.

The call for forgiveness comes five weeks after January's provincial polls in which allies of al-Maliki, a Shi'ite and former opposition member who fled Iraq under Saddam and was sentenced to death in absentia, swept much of central and southern Iraq.

Parties across the spectrum are now hammering out agreements to form majority blocs on provincial councils across Iraq, with an eye to national elections at the end of the year.

While the violence unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam is subsiding in most parts of Iraq, political rapprochement is proving more elusive.

Many of the players who have dominated Iraqi politics since 2003 appear unwilling to forgive the sectarian killing of recent years or set aside long-standing feuds over power and resources, many of which stem from Hussein's system of according privilege and power to fellow Sunni Arabs.

Iraq has passed legislation to reverse a deep government purge of members of Hussein's banned Ba'ath Party, instigated by U.S. authorities following the invasion. That decision helped fuel a bloody Sunni Arab insurgency.

While al-Maliki often speaks of the need for national reconciliation, some complain his Shi'ite-led government is dragging its feet on reembracing former Ba'athists.

Some rivals, including Iraq's minority Kurds, fear al-Maliki will try to consolidate power, and have accused al-Maliki of edging toward authoritarianism.