Saudi king invites Iraqi leaders for talks

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah on Saturday invited the leaders of Iraq’s political blocs for talks in Riyadh aimed at breaking the deadlock over the formation of a new government.

A Sunni-backed political coalition narrowly edged Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated bloc in Iraq’s March elections. But no single bloc won enough seats to control parliament or pick new leaders, touching off a seven-month scramble for allies that has all but ground Iraq’s government to a standstill.

In a statement, King Abdullah said Iraq is at “a crossroads” and appealed to the country’s political rivals to unite and “put down the fire of ugly sectarianism.” He did not provide a specific date for the Riyadh meeting, but suggested that it could take place after the hajj in November.

A spokeswoman for the winning Iraqiya list, led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, welcomed the Saudi monarch’s initiative.

“We ask all political blocs to welcome the initiative, preventing Iraq’s security situation from deteriorating” amid continued political deadlock, said Maysoon al-Damluji.

Members of al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition could not immediately be reached for comment.

Saudi Arabia neighbors Iraq and is believed to support Iraqiya, which draws much of its support from Iraq’s Sunni minority.

Saudi Arabia — like many of the Sunni Arab countries — views al-Maliki with suspicion. His ties with neighboring Iran, the region’s Shiite power, make him unpalatable to many Sunni Arab states that are trying to curb Tehran’s influence.

The Saudis have never invited al-Maliki to visit in his capacity as prime minister, which remains a sore point with the Iraqi leader. Many of Allawi’s supporters, meanwhile, point to the ease with which Allawi, who is a secular Shiite, is accepted in such places as Saudi Arabia and Jordan as an indication that he would be able to improve Iraq’s ties in the Arab world as prime minister.

Iraqi politicians have shuttled to and from neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, and Jordan in recent weeks in an attempt to win support for their re-election efforts, emphasizing the degree to which Iraq’s politics are subject to outside pressure.