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Originally published August 13, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 13, 2007 at 2:05 AM

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Iraq leader says he's optimistic about chances of unity

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday expressed optimism about the chances of reconciliation within Iraq's fractured government, even...

BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday expressed optimism about the chances of reconciliation within Iraq's fractured government, even as a political rival accused him of protecting militias with ties to Iran.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military announced that five soldiers were killed Saturday when a sniper shot one, then lured the others to a house rigged to explode. It was the single deadliest attack against American forces this month.

Four troops were wounded in the incident, which occurred southeast of Baghdad in Arab Jabour, a haven for Sunni insurgents.

Al-Maliki announced Sunday that a meeting of Iraq's leaders would begin this week, possibly today, in an attempt to resolve the growing political crisis. The results of the summit could have significant ramifications for the progress report that Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is to present to President Bush and Congress on Sept. 15. Al-Maliki's desire to create a cohesive government has been crippled by tensions among Shiite factions and by a sense of alienation among minority Sunnis, leaving several key pieces of legislation stalled.

In announcing the meeting, Al-Maliki said he hoped the six Cabinet members from the Iraqi Accordance Front — the largest Sunni political bloc — would return to the government. But he added that he would not hesitate to replace the politicians with other Sunnis, saying several tribal sheiks had approached him about filling the seats.

It remained uncertain, however, whether Sunni leaders would heed the call for negotiations. Adnan Dulaimi of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni political bloc in parliament, appealed to neighboring Arab countries Sunday for help in defeating what he called Iranian-supported Shiite violence against Sunnis.

Seventeen of al-Maliki's 37 Cabinet ministers have abandoned the government in recent weeks, many claiming the Shiite prime minister has turned a blind eye to torture, assassinations and execution-style slayings by Shiite extremists. Much of the violence has been blamed on Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Al Mahdi militia operating from the impoverished Sadr City.

President Bush ordered an increase in troop levels earlier this year, bringing the total U.S. deployment to near 160,000, in an attempt to quell both insurgents and sectarian extremists so al-Maliki could firm up the fragile ethnic and religious coalition that make up his government. Coalition forces on Sunday also raided suspected al-Qaida in Iraq hide-outs in western Baghdad, Samarra, Mosul and Tikrit, arresting 30 suspected militants, including two accused of weapons trafficking for the group, the military reported.

Mortars also landed on a northern neighborhood of the capital Sunday evening, killing four Iraqis. An Iraqi soldier was gunned down outside of his home in Babel, and an Interior Ministry source reported that 17 bullet-riddled male bodies were found during the day dumped around Baghdad.

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