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Iraqi Parliament Pulls Together as Break Looms
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Iraqi Parliament Pulls Together as Break Looms

Iraq

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The Iraqi parliament is a voting body again after it was paralyzed for five weeks by political boycotts. Today, the largest Sunni faction agreed to return to their seats as Shiite bloc agreed to end its boycott earlier this week. Now, the quarrelsome parliament has just a few weeks to pass several pieces of legislation and satisfy benchmarks set by the U.S. Congress.

NPR's John Burnett is in Baghdad.

JOHN BURNETT: Today, most factions of the Iraqi parliament sat down together in the big hall in the Green Zone, which is no small accomplishment. The occasion was the return of 44 Sunni lawmakers, members of the Iraqi Accordance Front. They had walked out last month when the Shiite-dominated body suspended speaker Mahmoud al-Mashadani, a radical Sunni Arab. Among other erratic behavior, the speaker was accused of ordering his bodyguards to beat a fellow lawmaker, and saying that insurgents who killed Americans were heroes.

Mr. SALIM ABDULLAH (Spokesman, Iraqi Accordance Front): (Speaking foreign language)

BURNETT: Salim Abdullah, speaker of the Accordance Front, said his group, after many consultations with other political blocs, agreed to end its boycott and take their seats again after the reinstatement of Mashadani. The speaker is expected to quietly resign after presiding over several sessions. Earlier this week, the largest Shiite bloc - 30 members loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr - ended its boycott after the parliament voted unanimously to rebuild a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra that was destroyed by bombs.

Mr. HASSAN AL-SINAID (Member, Dawa Party): (Foreign language spoken)

BURNETT: Hassan al-Sinaid, a member of the Sadr bloc, said his faction agreed to return after the government pledged to investigate the shrine bombing and to station defense forces to protect the mosque and the road leading to it.

The 275-member parliament finally has a quorum - Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish - but they have difficult, some say, impossible work ahead. They're scheduled to debate the all important and sensitive oil law, which will determine how revenues will be shared among the country's polarized ethnic groups, they'll consider constitutional reform and they'll discuss how to return Saddam loyalists to government.

Washington is impatient for parliament to make quick progress on these and other benchmarks in time for a critical September assessment by the White House. But many Iraqi lawmakers, still new to the concept of political consensus, are resentful of U.S. pressure. They say they don't want to be rushed to meet Washington's imposed timetable, especially when much of the nation is aflame with sectarian and ethnic warfare. Iraq's parliament has two more weeks of sessions before it's scheduled to take a month-long summer break in August.

John Burnett, NPR News, Baghdad.

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