Middle East

Saudi king offers talks to break Iraq deadlock

Members of the National Alliance announce the nomination of Nouri Maliki
Image caption The bargaining between Iraq's political parties has gone round in circles

Saudi Arabia's king has invited the leaders of Iraq's political blocs for talks in Riyadh aimed at breaking the deadlock over forming a new government.

King Abdullah suggested they meet after the Hajj pilgrimage in November.

A Sunni-backed bloc led by Iyad Allawi edged PM Nouri Maliki's Shia alliance in elections in March.

But neither bloc has been able to form a coalition and Iraq now holds the world record for the longest time without a government.

'Unhelpful'

King Abdullah was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying on Saturday that Iraq was at "a crossroads".

He also urged Iraq's political rivals to unite to "put down the fire of ugly sectarianism".

King Abdullah did not mention a specific date for the Riyadh talks, but suggested they could take place after the Hajj pilgrimage in two weeks.

A spokeswoman for Mr Allawi's Iraqiyya faction welcomed the Saudi monarch's initiative.

Maysoon al-Damluji said the proposal could help prevent "Iraq's security situation from deteriorating".

She said that Iraqiyya hoped that Iraq's important neighbours - such as Iran and Turkey - would also be invited to the talks.

Mr Maliki's State of Law bloc has so far made no public comment on the Saudi proposal.

Mr Allawi has been under mounting pressure to join a government led by Mr Maliki, but now that pressure is likely to be eased as the focus turns to Saudi Arabia in mid-November, the BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad reports.

One senior independent Kurdish politician, Mahmoud Osman, said the Saudi move was badly timed, unhelpful and would complicate the situation.

Analysts say that Saudi Arabia - like a number of other Sunni Muslim countries - is worried by the prospect of an Iraqi government dominated by the majority Shia and sympathetic to Iran.

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