Iraq's fractious political leaders squeezed out an agreement early yesterday to work together to resolve key disputes, amid growing pressure from US leaders for more progress in national reconciliation.
The accord was however unlikely to be enough to lure Sunni parties back to the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki or to satisfy US lawmakers increasingly impatient with his leadership, observers said.
The leaders agreed to ease restrictions on former members of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's Baath party taking up government jobs, to hold provincial elections -- a key demand of the US -- and help security forces in stopping the bloodshed, President Jalal Talabani's office said.
Iraqi political leaders have in the past announced broadbrush agreements but have battled to implement them or hammer out specifics.
The latest effort to pull Iraq back from the political brink comes amid intense pressure from US politicians and two weeks before leading US officials in Iraq present a keenly awaited report to the US Congress. It was swiftly welcomed by the White House.
Maliki, a Shiite; Talabani, a Kurd; Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi; Shiite Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi; and Massud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region, made a rare TV appearance after Talabani's office released the statement.
"After a series of meetings by political leaders in the circumstances that our country is passing through, they have decided to make serious efforts to find solutions to overcome the political and security crisis in Iraq," the statement said.
It said the five had agreed to support a new bill to replace the four-year-old de-Baathification law and make it easier for former members of Saddam's Baath party to take up government or military jobs. The return to public life of former Baathists who have no criminal records has been a strong demand of Iraq's main Sunni Arab political bloc, the National Concord Front, but the so-called Reconciliation and Accountability Law has yet to be approved by parliament.
The Front has boycotted Maliki's Shiite-led government since Aug. 1. There was no indication yesterday that the Front was planning to end the boycott and Omar Abdul Sattar, a leader of Hashemi's Iraqi Islamic Party, dismissed the agreement as stage-managed.
"It was an irrelevant media production," Abdul Sattar said.
The statement said that the leaders had also agreed to encourage the sharing of government jobs among all three communities.
Since the Aug. 1 boycott by the Sunni Arab bloc, a growing number of US politicians have spoken out against Maliki, with some like presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Carl Levin even calling for him to be replaced.
An angry Maliki lashed out at the two politicians on Sunday.
"They talk about Iraq as if Iraq is their property," Maliki said.
They "have not experienced in their political lives the kind of differences we have in Iraq. When they give their judgment, they have no knowledge of what reconciliation means," he said.
Meanwhile, Republican Senator John Warner amplified his bombshell demand last week that US President George W. Bush should start a limited troop withdrawal from Iraq by Christmas.
"Our troops have performed magnificently, under brilliant leadership, and have done precisely as the president asked," he told NBC TV on Sunday. "But the government, under the leadership of Maliki and other Iraqi leaders, have totally failed to put the other part of that partnership in place, namely deliver greater security."