Parties that walked out of Iraq's government last year have agreed to rejoin, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Thursday, in what could amount to a long-awaited political breakthrough, the Reuters reported.
The main Sunni Arab bloc, the Accordance Front, said it intended to submit a list of candidates for cabinet positions within days and could be back in Maliki's government soon. Its return has been a major goal of the United States.
But Maliki also repeated a warning that militia groups must disarm, a sign he is unlikely to reconcile quickly with Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his political movement.
"Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that reconciliation has proved a success and all political blocs will return to the government," Maliki's office said in a statement after Maliki met visiting British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.
The Accordance Front quit Maliki's Shi'ite-led government last August, at a time when most violence in Iraq pitted minority Sunni Arabs against majority Shi'ites.
But violence between those two communities has fallen sharply, and the Front signaled it was drawing closer to Maliki by backing his crackdown on Sadr's Shi'ite Mehdi Army militia, begun last month.
Front spokesman Salim al-Jubouri told Reuters the group intended to submit a list of candidates for cabinet posts "in a few days," which the cabinet could then present to parliament.
"Our return to the government is very close," he said.
The Front's exit following a range of policy disagreements left Maliki's cabinet with mainly Shi'ites and Kurds.
It set back efforts to draw Sunni Arabs, who had been dominant under the late dictator Saddam Hussein, closer into the political process and away from Iraq's insurgency and sectarian bloodshed, in which tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed.
A return of the Front would also be a major political boost for Maliki at a time when he is trying to isolate the Sadrists, who argue the crackdown on militias is an attempt to sideline them ahead of provincial elections in October.