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Political Bloc of Iraqi Shi'ite Cleric al-Sadr Ends Boycott of Parliament


Iraq Politics: Iraqi lawmakers say the political bloc of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has ended its two-month boycott of the country's parliament.
The lawmakers, who are members of Sadr's group, say they are rejoining the political process from today (Sunday) after parliament agreed to form a committee to consider their demands.
The Shi'ite bloc walked out of parliament seven weeks ago to protest a summit between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. President George W. Bush in Amman, Jordan.
Sadr's bloc holds 30 seats in parliament and also has six ministers in Mr. Maliki's Cabinet. The group says a parliamentary committee will now study its demand for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
Mr. Maliki minister has been under pressure from Washington to crack down on Sadr's powerful militia, the Mahdi Army.

Iraq: Iraqi police say two bomb blasts in Baghdad have killed at least seven people and wounded about 20.
In the first attack, a bomb exploded on a minibus in the central Karradah district this (Sunday) morning, killing six people. About 45 minutes later, a car bomb went off in eastern Baghdad, killing one person.
In another development, the U.S. military says about three-thousand-200 American troops (from the 82nd Airborne Division) have arrived in Baghdad to help Iraqi security forces combat sectarian violence.
The brigade is to be fully operational by February first. The reinforcements are the first to be deployed to Baghdad as part of President Bush's new strategy to stabilize the city.
Elsewhere in Iraq, the British military says a roadside bomb killed one British soldier and wounded three others today near the southern city of Basra.
On Saturday, 19 American troops were killed in Iraq, including 12 on a Blackhawk transport helicopter that crashed northeast of Baghdad.

Palestinian Politics: A Palestinian negotiator says a meeting between the leaders of rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah will now take place later today (Sunday).
The meeting in Damascus between Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had been expected Saturday, but was postponed because of continued disagreements over how to form a unity government for the Palestinian Territories.
Palestinian officials say one of those disputes centers on who will lead the Palestinian Interior Ministry in a unity government. The ministry effectively controls the internal Palestinian security forces.
They say Mr. Abbas' Fatah party and the more-militant Hamas group also disagree about whether a unity government should recognize Israel's right to exist, as demanded by the international community.
Mr. Abbas had warned he would hold early elections if he did not make progress with Hamas during his visit to Damascus.

Serbia Election: Serbian voters cast ballots today (Sunday) in the Balkan country's first parliamentary elections since becoming fully independent from its union with Montenegro last year.
Political analysts say the outcome of the election will determine whether Serbia will continue with the pro-Western reforms of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, or return to a more nationalist path set by late President Slobodan Milosevic.
Public opinion polls heading into the election indicate none of Serbia's three main political parties is likely to win enough votes for a majority in the 250-seat legislature, making a coalition government likely. Two major issues facing the new Serbian government will be the status of the U.N.-administered province of Kosovo, which is seeking independence from Belgrade, and Western demands for the arrest of war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic.

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