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Iraqi Leaders Pledge Reconciliation Effort

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad on August 26 (AFP) August 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish political leaders have signed a statement aimed at fostering reconciliation among the country's ethnic and religious factions.

Leaders from the main Iraqi factions held a rare joint news conference on August 26 to announce the agreement.

Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appeared alongside President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd; Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi; Shi'ite Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi; and Mas'ud Barzani, the president of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

President Talabani said the sides discussed many key issues and that agreement was near on some of them.

"We have also discussed important issues such as justice, law and inquiries that will replace the de-Ba'athification law," he said. "We have also agreed on important issues, some of their points have been submitted to the preparatory committee for reform. We have also discussed the law on provinces. The points of agreements were close, but some of the points have been submitted to the preparatory committee for reform and it will be approved soon. We hope this statement will be a good beginning."

At this point, however, the fate of al-Maliki's cabinet remains unclear, as major political groups in parliament are still critical of his policies.

The United States welcomed the Iraqi leaders' pledge to work toward reconciliation. A White House statement described the agreement as an "important symbol" of the commitment of Iraqi leaders to work together to benefit all Iraqis.

Al-Maliki's government has been weakened by the withdrawal of several mainly Sunni politicians from his cabinet, and is also under strong pressure from the United States to exercise more authority as a unified government.

Al-Maliki Rejects Foreign Criticism

In Paris today, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner expressed his apologies "for having interfered in Iraqi affairs" by criticizing al-Maliki and calling for him to be replaced.

Al-Maliki had demanded an official apology from France after Kouchner called for the prime minister's removal in an interview with the U.S. magazine "Newsweek."

Kouchner today told the French radio station RTL that if Maliki "wants me to excuse myself for having interfered in Iraqi affairs in such a direct way, then I do so willingly."

Al-Maliki on August 26 also lashed out at U.S. politicians who have called for him to be replaced.

Two U.S. Democratic senators, Carl Levin and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, urged Iraqi lawmakers to choose someone else to lead Iraq's ruling coalition and seek national reconciliation.

Al-Maliki said the senators "talk as if Iraq is their property," and should instead "respect democracy and its results."

He said the senators spoke "from a position of ignorance of what national reconciliation requires," adding that "national reconciliation is taking place, and although it might be seen as a slow process, it is fast if compared with other such processes" in other countries.

(with material from agency reports)

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