Iraq president calls for national unity conference

National unity slipping away

BAGHDAD - Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has called for a national conference on April 5 aimed at bridging sharp political differences in the country, a statement from his office said on Sunday.
"After intensive consultations with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi" and other political leaders, "Talabani, decided to call for the national meeting to be held on Thursday, April 5, 2012," a statement on the presidency website said.
"He called on the preparatory committee (for the meeting) to speed up its work and to prepare the agenda before this date," it said.
"Talabani hopes that joint efforts will lead to complete solutions that meet the needs and the hopes of the Iraqi people, and that reinforce national unity and joint work for maintaining stability," it said.
Talks between Iraqi political leaders were originally to take place in December amid a standoff between Maliki's Shiite National Alliance coalition and the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, which accused him of seeking to centralise power, but were cancelled when the two sides refused to meet.
The dispute cooled off after Iraqiya ended parliament and cabinet boycotts, but a wealth of other issues remain.
Kurdish president Massud Barzani hinted on Tuesday at a possible break with Iraq's unity government, complaining that Maliki was monopolising power and building an army loyal only to him.
Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who has been accused of running a death squad, is hiding out in the autonomous Kurdistan.
And the issue of Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, whom Maliki wants to sack after the former described him as "worse than Saddam Hussein," also remains unresolved.