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Iraq says Jordanian king and Turkish PM to visit

2/07/2008 - 17:06

By Khalid al-Ansary and Tim Cocks

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq is expecting visits soon fromJordan's King Abdullah and Turkish Prime Minister TayyipErdogan, easing its regional diplomatic isolation, the foreignminister said on Wednesday.

Abdullah will be the first Arab head of state to visit Iraqsince the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

"In the international community and Arab countries,confidence has grown in Iraq and its ability to be stable, torecover from the evils of sectarian war ... in its prospects tomove forward," Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told a newsconference.

He gave no dates for the visits.

Gulf Arab states, encouraged by a fall in violence to a4-year low, have also pledged to revive high-level ties toIraq.

Sunni Arab governments have largely stayed away from Iraqsince the invasion in 2003, citing security concerns. No Arabambassador has been stationed permanently in Iraq since Egypt'senvoy was kidnapped and killed shortly after arriving in 2005.

Analysts say Baghdad's reliance on U.S. troops and itsclose ties with non-Arab, Shi'ite majority Iran have also beenbehind the reluctance by Sunni Arab states to normalise ties.Iraq is the only Shi'ite-led Arab country.

"Soon there will be some senior leader visits to Iraq. KingAbdullah of Jordan is expected to visit us in Baghdad, thefirst Arab leader," Zebari said. "There is a diplomatic openingfor Iraq."

Zebari said he also expected Erdogan very soon. Iraq's tieswith Ankara have at times been tense over Turkish militaryattacks on Kurdish rebels living in northern Iraq.

He said the growing confidence of Arab governments in Iraqwas largely due to the Shi'ite-led government's progress inreconciling with minority Sunni Arabs after sectarian fightingbrought Iraq to the brink of civil war in 2006 and early 2007.

Critics say much more needs to be done to bridge thedivide.

SUNNI SET TO REJOIN CABINET

Maliki appeared to receive a boost on Tuesday when Iraq'smain Sunni Arab bloc said it was close to rejoining thegovernment, saying many of its demands for a greater share ofpower and freedom for Sunni Arab prisoners had been met.

Regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arabcountries have said they want to see Maliki's government takereconciliation with Iraq's Sunni Arab minority more seriously.

Sunni Arabs have little voice in the current Iraqi cabinet,which is dominated by Shi'ites and Kurds since the SunniAccordance Front quit a year ago.

"There is a new mood in the country ... forreconciliation," Zebari said.

Jordan and the United Arab Emirates had each named anambassador to Iraq, he added.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have all pledged toreopen their embassies and appoint ambassadors amid.

But while the Sunni bloc appears close to rejoining thegovernment, provincial elections expected to boost Sunni Arabparticipation at a local level look like they will be delayedbecause of obstacles getting an electoral law passed.

Maliki has set the polls for Oct 1, but legislators saidlast month there was little chance of getting the law passedsoon enough to allow preparations for a vote by then.

The U.N. special representative to Baghdad, Staffan deMistura, said there would be time to hold the elections beforethe end of the year if parliament passed the law this month.

"There is no reason for this electoral law not to beapproved because most of the issues can be solved. We stillhave one month but it is a crucial month," De Mistura said.

Parliament is scheduled to take a summer recess in August.

Washington says the elections will promote reconciliationby boosting the participation of minority Sunni Arabs inpolitics. Sunni Arabs boycotted the last local polls in January2005.

Lawmakers have said debate on the elections law has becomebogged down over a dispute between lawmakers over what to doabout voting in the disputed oil rich city of Kirkuk innorthern Iraq.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas and Aws Qusay;Editing by Dean Yates and Ralph Boulton)


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