- Associated Press - Thursday, April 26, 2012

IRBIL, IRAQ — Two political leaders who put Iraq’s prime minister in power met Thursday to discuss whether they should withdraw their support, now that a bitter sectarian political deadlock has led to calls for secession.

Hard-line anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr flew to Iraq’s northern Kurdish region, in what was billed as a historic visit, to meet with its president about how to end the months-long political impasse.

The minisummit underlined the explosiveness of Iraq in the wake of the U.S. military pullout in December, marked by bloody attacks and the political stalemate, both sectarian in nature.

Speaking to reporters at the airport in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, Mr. al-Sadr pointedly avoided blaming Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki personally for letting the Shiite-led government sideline Kurds and Sunnis, as his critics accuse.

But the cleric demanded inclusiveness in Iraq’s politics, because “divisiveness is not good for the people.”

“I have said it many times: The policy of exclusion and the policy of marginalization must end in Iraq,” Mr. al-Sadr said, wiping his brow repeatedly in the heat during an eight-minute news conference. “All Iraqis should live under one roof and for one goal.”

Asked if he would try to broker a new political coalition among Mr. al-Maliki’s opponents, and then try to push the prime minister from power, Mr. al-Sadr responded: “I will answer later.”

Spokesmen for Mr. al-Maliki and the central government in Baghdad could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Kurdish President Massoud Barzani met Mr. al-Sadr at the airport, where a red carpet was rolled onto the runway for his first trip to the Kurdish region. The Kurdish president did not join Mr. al-Sadr in talking to reporters. The two were due to sit down for extended talks later Thursday night.

It was only with the support of Mr. Barzani and Mr. al-Sadr that Mr. al-Maliki kept his job after his party fell far short of winning the most seats in the 2010 parliamentary elections. Mr. al-Maliki cobbled together a political coalition with the Kurds and Mr. al-Sadr’s followers, winning the right to head the government.

But he failed to set up a policy committee that Sunnis demanded to serve as a check on the Shiite government, touching off more than a year of bitterness and accusations. Mr. Barzani and others charge that Mr. al-Maliki is becoming a dictator.

Sunni insurgent groups have responded to their perceived sidelining with deadly attacks against Shiites and government officials.

On Thursday, bombings in two of Baghdad’s largest Shiite neighborhoods killed five people and wounded 31. Police and medics confirmed the casualties but spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.