Iraq declares next national reconciliation conference to be in June

Iraqi leaders will hold a second reconciliation conference among the ethnic and religious communities during the first week of June, an Arab League envoy said Tuesday.

The meeting will take place in Iraq under the auspices of the league, which organized the first session in Cairo late last year, Mustafa Othman told reporters after meeting with Foreign Ministry officials in Baghdad .

"Stability in Iraq means stability in the entire region, and without it there is no stability in the region," he said at a press conference broadcast on Iraqi television.

The league will appoint a permanent envoy to Baghdad in the near future to help plan the next conference, Othman said.

The gatherings are part of a U.S.-backed league attempt to bring Iraq 's communities closer together and assure Sunni Arab participation in a political process now dominated by the Shiite majority and large Kurdish minority considered key to ending the country's deadly insurgency.

Shiite and Kurdish leaders reached out to the Sunni Arab community at a preparatory conference in November by calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces and saying the country's opposition had a "legitimate right" of resistance.

No specific dates were set, reflecting the Shiite-dominated government's stance that Iraqi security forces must be built up first.

Participants have said they want a new government formed before the next meeting, but talks have slowed since the December elections because of the deep divisions between Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties.

Underscoring mounting international concern, Britain 's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Tuesday urged Iraqi leaders to set aside sectarian divides for the sake of national unity and a democratic future.

Straw arrived in Baghdad late Monday after U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad warned Iraqi leaders risk losing American support unless they establish a national unity government with the police and army out of the hands of religious parties, reports the AP.


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