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Iraq Transition

Iraqi leaders 'melt the ice' over threats to quit government

Story Highlights

• Iraq's Shiite prime minister meets with the country's top Sunni official
• Tariq al-Hashimi set a May 15 deadline to pull out from Iraq's government
• Prime minister calls the meeting "encouraging and productive"

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A meeting Tuesday between Iraq's Shiite prime minister and the country's top Sunni official appeared to ease tensions over threats that the entire Sunni bloc could pull out of the government.

"The meeting was necessary to melt the ice that was accumulated over the brotherhood between me and my brother, the prime minister," said Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, after meeting with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Al-Hashimi previously told CNN if key amendments to the Iraq Constitution are not made by May 15, he will step down and pull his 44 Sunni politicians out of the 275-member Iraqi parliament. (Sunni demand could unravel Iraqi government)

Al-Hashimi's cooperation with the Shiite-led government is considered essential if there is to be a realistic chance of bridging the Shiite-Sunni divide in Iraq -- one of the key goals of the Bush administration.

The rhetoric the two imparted to reporters about the meeting included imagery of brotherhood, words that belied recent Sunni frustration over issues such as constitutional reform and the failure to be consulted by the government on security matters. (Watch al-Hashimi express anger over lack of power-sharing Video)

Fostering support among Sunnis is a major effort for the government, which held power in Iraq throughout the Saddam Hussein era. Many of the insurgents in the country -- which has a Shiite majority -- are Sunni militants and supporters of Hussein's Baathist party.

Al-Maliki said the pair reviewed security and political issues. (Watch al-Hashimi talk about safety in Baghdad Video)

"Our brother, Mr. Vice-President, is one of makers of the political reality in Iraq," al-Maliki said. "Our meeting was blessed and good in discussing and reviewing the cases of mutual importance and responsibility within the frame of the program which was approved by the political partnership to be used in running the country and facing the crises."

He said he didn't hear of any intention to leave the government from his "brother."

No guarantees

"We don't have guarantees between us, but there is a process of reviewing to put back everything to the right track," al-Maliki said. "Guarantees without being on the right track are worthless."

Al-Hashimi, meanwhile, said the meeting was frank but "encouraging and productive" and "that we are able to build a promising future based on the real partnership and mutual trust, which is very important to make the political project going on toward the good."

Al-Hashimi recently told CNN that he turned down an offer by President Bush to visit Washington until he can count more fully on U.S. help. He said he wants guarantees in the constitution that the country won't be split into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish federal states, which he says would disadvantage Sunnis.

Presently, there is a Kurdish autonomous region in the north and some Shiites favor a similar one for themselves in the south.

Any Sunni withdrawal would further weaken al-Maliki just weeks after Shiite Cabinet ministers allied with Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr left the government.

Al-Hashimi's Iraqi Islamic Party was key in getting Sunnis out to vote in the December 2005 election. Sunnis had been reluctant to take part in the political process, and many were persuaded to do so only with the promise of changes to Iraq's Constitution.

The Bush administration has been working to foster national unity among Iraqis, and al-Maliki's office said the president will soon dispatch a senior administration official to Iraq to rally support for the government.


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Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi says Sunnis are feeling increasingly "meaningless" in the political process.

SPECIAL REPORT

• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
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