ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
Iraqi political leaders announced an agreement today that they say will maintain Shiite and Kurdish control of parliament. But they failed to win back the participation of an important bloc of Sunni-Arab lawmakers. The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may have the votes to pass key legislation, but it needs the support of at least some Sunnis to give its actions political legitimacy.
NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Baghdad.
COREY FLINTOFF: The leaders at today's news conference tried to put a good face on failure, but the scene at the podium told a different story - they were two Kurds, two Shiites and no Sunnis. President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, did everything he could to stress that members of the Sunni Accordance Front were welcomed back.
President JALAL TALABANI (Iraq): (Through translator) We have not closed the doors against anyone, and we hope to reach an agreement with our brothers in the Accordance Front.
FLINTOFF: The latest crisis began when six members of the Accordance Front left the government, claiming that Prime Minister Maliki was favoring members of his own Shiite sect and failing to give Sunnis a fair place in the decision making. Maliki blustered at first, threatening to give the Cabinet positions to other Sunnis. And he was widely understood to mean that tribal sheiks, who've begun cooperating with U.S. and Iraqi forces, who are fighting insurgents in Anbar province. Maliki dismissed that idea today saying it was an invention of the news media.
Prime Minister NOURI AL-MALIKI (Iraq): (Through translator) Yes, a lot of people would like to occupy positions in a ministry, but we still hope to reach an agreement with the brothers in the Accordance Front.
FLINTOFF: The Accordance members, meanwhile, weren't feeling quite so brotherly. Abdul Kareem al-Samaraai, a leading member of the Sunni Islamic Party, said the coalition was just window-dressing. It couldn't achieve anything.
Mr. ABDUL KAREEM AL-SAMARAAI (Member, Sunni Islamic Party): (Through translator) These are the same leaders and the platforms that led this government to its ultimate failure.
FLINTOFF: Anthony Cordesman is an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He says people in the U.S. need to realize that Maliki's government is not a focus of power but a faction among many, and a weak one at that. He says even if Maliki succeeds in luring the Accordance Front back to the government, he's going to have to show that he has a credible mix of ethnic and religious groups with a fair balance of power.
Mr. ANTHONY CORDESMAN (Analyst, Center for Strategic and International Studies): People are going to have to see that the agreement isn't just a matter of laws or votes in parliament, that the end result is one they can live with.
FLINTOFF: The defection of the Sunnis doesn't reduce Maliki's parliamentary majority by much. This latest agreement may give him enough votes to pass critical legislation, including a formula for sharing the country's oil wealth among ethnic and religious groups. The trouble is he needs a consensus among those groups, and he won't get it unless the Sunnis give him real support.
Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Baghdad.
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