Iraqi Shiite, Sunni MPs Sign New 'Unity' Pact

Parliamentary blocs representing Sunnis, Shiites and independents on Sunday signed on to a common platform stressing the need for Iraqi national unity and central control over oil reserves.

The blocs, should they come together as is expected in a new political alliance, would be a dominant force in the 275-member parliament, with a total of more than 100 seats.

Among those who signed the statement of common understanding are the movement of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the secular Iraqi National List of former prime minister Iyad Allawi and Sunni leader Salah al-Mutlak's National Dialogue Front, a joint statement said.

The statement said the pact was signed "for the sake of the higher national interest, to maintain a united Iraq free of sectarian divisions … and to support national reconciliation."

The parties demanded that oil and gas "and other natural resources should remain Iraqi treasures" and not be allowed to be signed away by regional authorities.

The statement expressed "deep concern at individual acts without reference to central government, such as the signing of contracts with foreign companies" - an allusion to Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, which has signed 15 crude oil contracts with 20 foreign concerns since August.

The parties also came out in support of a political agreement over the future of northern oil city of Kirkuk, rather than a promised referendum that had been due to be held last year.

According to article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, a referendum was supposed to have been held by the end of 2007 to decide whether Kirkuk with its oil wealth should be integrated into the autonomous Kurdish region.

However, the poll was not held on time and has been delayed for six months, amid calls that it be scrapped altogether.

The statement also called for the "mobilization of resources to complete building the Iraqi security forces by training them to enforce law and protect the country and so end all justification for the presence of occupying forces on Iraqi soil."

Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani reacted angrily.

"These actions against section 140 (of the constitution) will not succeed," he told a news conference in Arbil, capital of the Kurdish region.

"These are the same people who are against the Iraqi constitution and they couldn't do anything at that time," he said.

Sunday's agreement is seen as a prelude to the possible formation of a new parliamentary bloc, which would be powerful enough to challenge a four-party alliance Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki formed in August.

Maliki's political alliance - comprising his Dawa Islamic Party, Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi's Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), one of Iraq's most powerful Shiite factions, President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party - has about 110 seats in parliament.

The new political bloc, should its planned formation go ahead, would have slightly less than that number but would be in a position to put pressure on the Shiite prime minister.

"This is a memorandum of understanding to correct the views being expressed in parliament and to resolve disputes," said Sadrist MP Nassar al-Rubaie.

"We are not forming a coalition in the meantime but if in the future we manage through this alliance to get out of our political crises, we may well form a coalition."

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