Saturday, March 31, 2007

Iraqi Government Backs Relocation Plan

BAGHDAD - The Iraqi government has endorsed a decision to relocate and compensate thousands of Arabs who moved to the northern city of Kirkuk as part of Saddam Hussein's campaign to push out the Kurds, the justice minister said Saturday. The decision was a major step toward solidifying the status of the disputed oil-rich city.

A series of bombings and attacks, meanwhile, killed at least 17 people around the country, including nine construction workers who died when gunmen opened fire on their bus. The violence capped a week in which more than 500 people have died in sectarian violence.

Justice Minister Hashim al-Shebli said the Cabinet agreed on Thursday to a committee's February recommendation that Arabs who moved to Kirkuk from other parts of Iraq after July 1968 would be returned to their original towns and given monetary compensation in exchange for the voluntary moves.

Al-Shebli, a Sunni Arab, also confirmed that he offered his resignation on Thursday, citing differences with the government and his own political group, the secular Iraqi List, which joined Sunni Arab lawmakers in opposing the Kirkuk decision. He said he would remain in office until the Cabinet approved his resignation.

"I have differences with the government on one side and with my parliamentary bloc on another," al-Shebli said, without elaborating.

The Iraqi List, which is led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, holds 25 seats in the 275-seat parliament.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, could not be reached for comment. Government adviser Sami al-Askari said he had no information about the resignation.

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