From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
In Iraq this week, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced a new political alliance. Shiite and Kurdish parties are coming together in an attempt to break the long-running political impasse in Baghdad. But Sunni leaders are not taking part, and some key Shiite groups are also staying away.
NPR's Jamie Tarabay sat down for an interview with the prime minister today, and she has this report.
JAMIE TARABAY: Nouri al-Maliki has had a tough week. That came through clearly in today's interview in his office in Baghdad's Green Zone.
Prime Minister NOURI AL-MALIKI (Iraq): (Through translator) You would have to be delusional to think it's easy to rule Iraq. I know how difficult it is, and I know it will be like this for a long time. But the important thing is we are succeeding.
TARABAY: Maliki spent much of the week trying to coax key Sunni political leaders into rejoining his government. Seventeen cabinet ministers, including some Shiites as well as the Sunnis, have either withdrawn from the government or are boycotting cabinet meetings. The prime minister says he'll continue efforts to broaden his coalition, but warns there's no more room left in his cabinet for people who won't support him.
Prime Minister AL-MALIKI: (Through translator) Whoever wants to be a real partner has to share in the burden and the duty. He cannot be in government and oppose it, be in the political process and want it to fail.
TARABAY: One of the key holdouts is Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who's a member of the largest Sunni alliance in Iraq's parliament. Maliki says he'll meet with Hashemi tomorrow to talk about how the Sunnis can be involved. Hashemi's fellow cabinet members resigned from the government over claims Maliki was ignoring their demands. Maliki says the door is open to Hashemi's party to return, but also warns his government can survive without them.
Prime Minister AL-MALIKI: (Through translator) If they refuse to take part in the government, we'll be forced to select from the other Sunni Arabs in order to have the Sunnis represented in the government.
TARABAY: And he is looking elsewhere. Today, Maliki visited Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, north of Baghdad, where he met with Sunni tribal leaders. He has also sent out feelers to local leaders in Anbar province, where Sunni tribesmen are now in an alliance with U.S. forces fighting the Islamist militants of al-Qaida in Iraq. So far, there is no sign that the tribal leaders would be willing to join Maliki's government.
One of the Sunnis' main complaints is about Baghdad, where Shiite militias have, over the past 18 months, expelled thousands of Sunnis from formerly mixed neighborhoods. Maliki insists he's already begun to crack down on those militias.
Prime Minister AL-MALIKI: (Through translator) We've declared war on them. It's almost over, even though they do still attack, kidnap and shoot, but their operations have decreased significantly.
TARABAY: It's now less than a month before the top American military and diplomatic officials in Iraq are due to present a critical assessment of the situation here to Congress. The so-called surge of American forces that began in February was designed to give Maliki and other Iraqi political leaders an opportunity to work out their differences and promote national reconciliation. The prime minister admits the politicians are far from achieving that goal, but he appealed for patience saying, here in Iraq, everything takes time. Maliki says talk of deadlines or U.S. troop withdrawals will only help Iraq's enemies.
Prime Minister AL-MALIKI: (Through translator) Our enemies, al-Qaida, the outlaws and militias, they want an end to the political process. If they know there's a timeframe or a deadline, they will only intensify their efforts, and regional countries who support them will increase their sabotage.
TARABAY: What do you say to the politicians in the States who are calling for the U.S. troops to come home now?
Prime Minister AL-MALIKI: (Through translator) Withdrawing now is futile, especially when there are signs of victory. The coalition forces have achieved a lot and sacrificed a lot. A sudden pullout, an uncoordinated pullout, will cause setbacks. If the aim is to reduce the number of troops, let that be done in an organized way.
TARABAY: Maliki's next big test will come in September when parliament reconvenes. The prime minister says his new political alliance has enough votes in the assembly to ensure passage of key legislation on the distribution of Iraq's oil revenues. But Maliki's opponents are confident they can block that move.
Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.
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