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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 August 2007, 23:13 GMT 00:13 UK
Iraqi leaders sign unity accord
Nouri Maliki (file)
Mr Maliki said the deal was a step to rebuild Iraq's political process
Iraqi Shia, Sunni and Kurdish leaders have signed a reconciliation deal, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki says.

The accord was the second step towards rebuilding Iraq's political process, Mr Maliki said, after four Kurdish and Shia parties formed a new alliance.

A committee formed by the parties had "accomplished some solutions", he said.

Mr Maliki has been criticised in recent days by US politicians, but the White House hailed Sunday's deal as "an important symbol" of unity in Iraq.

"We congratulate Iraq's leaders on the important agreement reached today in Baghdad... [and] their commitment to work together for the benefit of all Iraqis," said a statement issued from President George W Bush's Texas ranch.

'Sense of movement'

Issues under discussion between Iraqi politicians include holding provincial elections and easing a ban on former Baath party members in the civil service and military.

After the meeting, Mr Maliki appeared at a news conference alongside Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Sunni Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, Shia Vice-President Adel Abdul-Mahdi and Massoud Barzani - president of the Kurdish region.

But nothing suggests that the rebuilding of a broad-based government is necessarily any closer, the BBC's Mike Wooldridge in Baghdad says.

Mr Hashemi said he had taken part in the talks as vice-president but did not indicate his Iraqi Islamic Party was about to join the moderate Shia-Kurdish alliance.

The news conference seemed intended more to give a sense of movement than to convey the substance of significant agreement, our correspondent adds.

The deal has been pushed by the US as a key step on the path to national reconciliation in Iraq.

Surge report

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Maliki hit back at senior US politicians who have called for him to be removed from office, singling out senators Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin.

He said the Democratic senators were acting as if Iraq was "their property" and that they should "come to their senses" and "respect democracy".

US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and US ambassador Ryan Crocker are expected to report to US Congress in mid-September on progress in Iraq since the troop surge.

The introduction of 30,000 extra troops - completed in mid-June - was supposed give the Iraqi government extra time to make political progress.

Mr Maliki said a negative report by Gen Petraeus would not cause him to change course, but he expected the general to "be supportive of the government".

The Iraqi politicians appeared together on national TV

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