October 30, 2010 / 4:14 PM / in 9 years

Saudi offers to host talks on Iraq political crisis

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah invited Iraq’s political parties on Saturday to attend talks in the kingdom to overcome the 7-month political gridlock that followed an inconclusive election, state news agency SPA said.

The talks would be held in the Saudi capital Riyadh under the auspices of the 22-nation Arab League after the annual Muslim haj pilgrimage ending around November 18, SPA said.

Iraq has been without a new government since a March 7 election that failed to produce a clear winner, leaving Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish politicians jockeying for power and position.

Iraqiya, the cross-sectarian Iraqi political bloc that received the most votes in the election, welcomed the Saudi initiative and said Turkey and Iran should also be invited.

The lack of a government has sparked concerns among neighbours of a rise in violence just as the sectarian strife triggered after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion recedes and U.S. forces start to withdraw.

“Everyone believes that you are at a crossroad that requires doing the utmost efforts to unite, get over traumas and conflicts and get rid of sectarianism,” SPA quoted the king as saying, addressing Iraqi leaders.

The National Alliance, a merger of major Shi’ite blocs, named sitting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki its nominee for a second term on October 1 despite dissent within the coalition.

Maliki won support from his own State of Law bloc and the Sadrist movement of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Iraq’s Sunni Arab neighbours and the United States are worried about Shi’ite Iran’s growing regional influence and want Maliki to include Iraqiya in a power-sharing deal. Iraqiya is led by Shi’ite former prime minister Iyad Allawi but enjoys strong support among Sunnis.

“We welcome the initiative and call on all political blocs to respond positively,” said Iraqiya spokeswoman Maysoun al-Damalouji, adding that Turkey and Iran should be involved as well.

There was no immediate word from Maliki or other players.

King Abdullah held talks with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa last week.

Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal in Baghdad; Editing by Peter Graff

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