Reconciliation must for Iraq: Dy PM

BAGHDAD: Iraq must make progress on national reconciliation soon or hard-won security gains will be lost to extremists who will "play havoc" with the country, deputy premier Barham Saleh warned on Friday.

Saleh said Iraqis, as well as the United States and Britain, should feel proud of the improvements in security in the country, but said extremist forces would seize the opportunity if the impasse continued.

"We have these improvements in security dynamics, and we have to be proud of that achievement," he told a London think-tank, on a trip to the British capital for a conference to drum up investment.

"But at the same time, we have to remember that unless we resolve the fundamental political issues facing our societies, these security improvements will not last," he said, adding: "This is the latest challenge for Iraq."

Saleh acknowledged that politicians in Baghdad needed "to do a lot more on these issues of political reconciliation, power-sharing, constitutional amendments and so on."

"Unless we do so in a timely fashion, we will offer the extremists, not necessarily Al-Qaeda ... opportunity to play havoc."

Although security has improved dramatically since sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis peaked in late 2007, bombings remain a daily occurrence, and official figures showed April was the bloodiest period in Iraq in seven months.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki still faces major difficulties, ranging from demands for a decentralised state, Kurdish territorial and economic demands, and challenges over the oil-rich and ethnically diverse province of Kirkuk.

Saleh said the main issue was finding out how Iraq's various communities "would feel included in the political process, and feel that they have a say in this process."

He was upbeat that a compromise could be reached, noting that "Iraqi leaders, the Iraqi political parties, but above all, Iraqi society has proven far more mature than people were willing to give them credit."