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ARAB-US RELATIONS - May 9 - Cheney Presses Maliki On Reforms.

US Vice-Pres Dick Cheney, pays an unexpected visit to Iraq in an apparent move to press PM Nouri al-Maliki, to push legislation aimed at overcoming sectarian differences through a reluctant parliament. US officials have said that progress on the reforms - which include a law regulating the oil industry, a roll-back of a purge of members of the former ruling Ba'ath party, the dismantling of militias and a review of the constitution - will weigh heavily on September's evaluation of the success of the latest US push to boost security in and around Baghdad. Cheney said talks focused on "things like the Baghdad security plan, ongoing operations against the terrorists, as well as political and economic issues that are before the Iraqi government". The Americans hope that resolving political and economic disputes will reduce Sunni distrust of the Shi'ite-led government and possibly lead to some Sunni insurgent groups deciding to switch to peaceful politics. However, there are disagreements in parliament between Iraq's different ethnic and sectarian-based political blocs. Washington is particularly concerned that Iraq's parliament may break for two months for the summer without passing important legislation. Sunni want to amend clauses that would allow the establishment of a Shi'ite-led regional government in southern Iraq, similar to the existing Kurdistan regional government in the north. Iraq's oil is concentrated in the north and south of the country, and Sunni fear that federalism would leave their central homeland starved of resources. A parliamentary committee including Sunni, Shi'ite, and Kurds dealing with the proposed amendments has said that it will issue its recommendations on May 15, although some observers have said that the committee may postpone tackling the most divisive issues until later - a common tactic in Iraqi politics. The de-Ba'athification law has run up against opposition from radical Shi'ite, and possibly as well from Grand Ayat Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's leading Shi'ite theologian, whose representatives have said that he opposes any changes that would allow "criminals" to regain their seats in government. Sistani himself does not appear in public, and it is never clear how committed he may be to statements made in his name. In the past, Shi'ite politicians appear to have been able to persuade Sistani to temper his criticism of positions they needed to take to compromise with the US or with other political groups. Ryan Crocker, US ambassador to Baghdad, told the FT at a conference in Egypt on Friday that he believed Maliki should at least attempt to pass the legislation, even if he encountered opposition. "In a democracy you get what you fight for. If you don't fight for it, you don't get it".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Date:May 12, 2007
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