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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sunnis End Political Boycott

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- More than 1,000 Sunni Arab clerics, political leaders and tribal heads ended their two-year boycott of politics in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq on Saturday, uniting in a bloc that they said would help draft Iraq's constitution and compete in elections.

Formation of the group comes during escalating violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that has raised the threat of sectarian war. The bloc represents moderate and hard-line members of the Association of Muslim Scholars, the Iraqi Islamic Party and other main groups of the disgruntled Sunni minority toppled from dominance when U.S.-led troops routed Hussein in April 2003.

Sunnis have remained on the sidelines of the Iraqi government since then. Most Sunnis boycotted national elections in January that put the long-suppressed Shiite majority in charge. Meanwhile, a Sunni-led insurgency appears to have become increasingly unpopular among ordinary Iraqis as the death toll from bombings and other attacks climbs.

"The country needs Sunnis to join politics," Adnand Dulaimi, a leader of the drive to draw Sunnis into the rebuilding of Iraq, said at a conference Saturday. "The Sunnis are now ready to participate."

"We think it's time to take steps to save Iraq's identity, and its unity and independence," Dulaimi said.

U.S. officials and leaders of the new Iraqi government have said that including Sunnis in the political process is essential to ending the insurgency.