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Saudi king offers to host talks to end political stalemate in Iraq

From Mohammed Tawfeeq, CNN
  • The Iraqi government has been in limbo for months
  • The Saudi king calls for leaders to "extinguish the fire" of sectarianism
  • The response inside Iraq is mixed

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah offered Saturday to host talks in his kingdom aimed at ending the nearly eight-month political stalemate in Iraq, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

The king, in a statement published by the SPA, called on Iraqi leaders to meet in the Saudi capital of Riyadh after the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, around mid-November. He said the meeting would take place under the umbrella of the Arab League, a 22-member organization of Arab states.

"It is well-known to everyone that you are at a crossroads, a fact that necessitates your uniting the ranks, rising above your wounds, distancing the shadows of differences, and extinguishing the fire of abhorrent sectarianism," said the king, as reported by SPA.

"Our hands are outstretched to you. Let us work together for the security, integrity and stability of the land and brotherly people of Iraq," he said, addressing leaders.

The Iraqi government has been in limbo for months. Elections in March gave the opposition al-Iraqiya bloc two more seats in parliament than Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's National Alliance coalition, but al-Iraqiya has not been able to muster the support required -- 163 seats in the 325-member Parliament -- to form a new government.

The Saudi king's offer received a mixed response from inside Iraq.

A spokeswoman for the al-Iraqiya bloc said Saturday that the group supports the king's call for talks and said invitations should likewise be extended to Iran and Turkey.

"Iraq is a founding member of the Arab League, and events in Iraq will reflect on the stability of the region in general," Maysoon Al-Damluji said in an email to CNN.

In September, al-Iraqiya, a largely cross-sectarian bloc which took 91 seats in the March 7 vote, said it would not participate in a government headed by al-Maliki. Just a few days later, the National Alliance, which won 89 seats in the election, tapped al-Maliki for another term as prime minister.

Shiite lawmaker Hassan al-Sinead, who is allied with al-Maliki's coalition, told Iraq's state television he does not support the Saudi king's effort.

"The Saudi calls for Iraqi political leaders to meet in Riyadh will complicate the political scene in Iraq and will delay the formation of the government," he said, according to Iraqiya TV.

Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman likewise told state television that his group does not support the Saudi appeal.

"The Kurdish coalition believes that the Saudi initiative will have a negative impact on the efforts made by Iraqi political parties to form the government," said Othman, as reported by Iraqiya TV.