Gulf & Middle East
Bush in talks to prevent collapse of Iraqi coalition
Apr 30, 2007 - 11:21:41 PM

Baghdad, April 30 - US President George W. Bush has spoken to Iraqi Vice President Tarek al-Hashimi on the latter's possible move to bring his party out of the Iraqi government, the news agency Aswat al-Iraq reported Monday as violence, including a suicide attack that killed 25 people, continued.

In the telephonic talk Sunday evening, al-Hashimi had said the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, which he leads, felt 'sidelined' in the cabinet.

'We're considering leaving the government because we have lost every hope for reforms,' the agency said al-Hashimi told Bush.

Al-Hashimi's office said Bush took the vice-president's concerns seriously and invited him to Washington for further talks.

The Iraqi Islamic Party has 44 of the 275 seats in parliament and is the most important Sunni faction in the Shia- and Kurd-dominated house.

Sunnis have accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of - among other things - allowing the country's security forces in their fight on terrorism to concentrate on Sunnis while ignoring Shia extremists.

In Diyala province north of Baghdad, a suicide bomber Monday killed 25 people at a funeral, the Al-Arabiya news agency reported.

The number of attacks in the province has increased over the past weeks, backing up statements by Iraqi analysts that extremists had fled to northern Iraq in response to increased raids by security forces in Baghdad.

The US military meanwhile contradicted earlier reports that an explosion that killed 25 people in the southern city of Basra was a car bombing.

The US version said the explosion was the result of an accident 'in the transport of weapons and explosives', and accused the militia of Moqtada al-Sadr of spreading misinformation to deflect responsibility for the accident from themselves.

In other incidents of violence, four Iraqis were killed and 10 wounded in western Baghdad Monday by an insurgent bomb attack targeting a group of police, news channel al-Arabiya reported.

Also Monday, the US army reported the shooting dead of one of its soldiers Saturday in an insurgent attack in the east of the Iraqi capital.

According to a military statement, US forces the same day thwarted an attempted bomb attack on a girls' school in the town of Tarmiyah, north of Baghdad.

The incident was the second time in a month that explosives had been found close to the school, the US military said. The facility is set to reopen in the coming weeks following renovation.

Also Monday, the Iraqi parliament decided to order US troops to approach no closer than one kilometre to the Imam Kadhem shrine in Baghdad.

On Sunday US and Iraqi soldiers clashed with supporters of the radical Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr near the holy site.

Christian member of parliament Efraim Abdul Ahad of the Kurdish Alliance called on the government to counter threats against Christians in southern Baghdad's predominantly Sunni Muslim neighbourhood of al-Dura.

Abdul Ahad reported that the al-Dura Christians had been told by gunmen to leave their homes, pay 250,000 dinars - or convert to Islam.

Most of the 850,000 Christians who lived in Iraq prior to the 2003 US-led invasion have already left the country. As a minority without a militia, Christians are more vulnerable to extremists and criminals that other Iraqis.

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