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Iraq PM due before MPs as US troop talks cancelled


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Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is due to make a rare appearance before Iraq's parliament on Saturday to push a plan for downsizing a bloated government that critics accuse of inaction.

An aide to Maliki, meanwhile, said a meeting of political leaders to discuss the looming issue of whether US troops should stay in Iraq beyond a year-end withdrawal deadline had been cancelled, although American officials have urged counterparts in Baghdad for an early decision.

"Nuri al-Maliki will be at parliament tomorrow to explain how he intends to reduce the number of ministers, and also to present a new programme for the government," Ali Mussawi, a media advisor to the premier, told AFP on Friday.

Maliki's 46-member cabinet, which he hopes to slash to 30 ministers, is the biggest in Iraq's history, and was only approved in December after protracted horse-trading that followed March 2010 elections in which no party gained a clear majority.

The prime minister sent a letter to MPs outlining his proposals on July 13, noting that the size of the government had become "a burden" on government work and the country's budget as it seeks to rebuild from three decades of war and sanctions.

His plans require dramatically cutting the number of ministers of state and firing three cabinet ministers.

Iraq's government has been criticised for inaction on key issues to do with rebuilding the country after 30 years of war and sanctions, with nationwide protests since February railing against official corruption and ineptitude.

The inaction has also affected the issue of whether or not some US forces will be asked to stay beyond 2011.

Mussawi said that a meeting of political leaders to debate whether or not any American soldiers should stay on, originally scheduled for Saturday, was indefinitely delayed.

He said the talks were postponed because President Jalal Talabani, who was to lead them, had to visit the northern city of Arbil to attend condolence ceremonies for the mother of Massud Barzani, president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region. She died on Wednesday.

Edited by Stefanie
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