Maliki reaches out to members of Saddam's army at reconciliation conference
BAGHDAD, Iraq: Iraq's prime minister stressed Saturday that the national army has "opened its doors" to former members of Saddam Hussein's army as the government seeks help in curbing the rampant violence in the country.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also offered an olive branch to former members of Saddam's outlawed Baath Party not found to be involved in crimes against Iraqis.
His comments came as the Iraqi government convened a national reconciliation conference aimed at rallying ethnic, religious and political groups around a common strategy for handling Iraq's problems.
But the gathering was overshadowed by rising sectarian tensions and political divisions as al-Maliki's 7-month-old government faces growing dissent by coalition partners, including Shiite allies like radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Al-Sadr's bloc and the Sunni National Association of Muslim Scholars said they would not attend the gathering.
Some Baath Party members not linked to the Sunni-led insurgency, as well as former army officers, were among the delegates, organizers said.
Al-Maliki reached out to the officers and soldiers who lost their posts after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam nearly four years ago.
He imposed few conditions on the return of former military personnel, only cautioning that those allowed to serve in the new army should be loyal to the country and conduct themselves professionally.
He also said the size of the army might limit the number accepted but those unable to join would be given pensions.
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