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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's prime minister said on Sunday the country's biggest Sunni Arab political party had agreed to join a new alliance with Shi'ites and Kurds to end political paralysis, but a top official of the party denied it.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, under pressure from the United States to show progress towards national reconciliation, said the Iraqi Islamic Party of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi would join the alliance of moderate Shi'ite and Kurdish parties.
It has, however, been in talks with other parties to try to break the political impasse and reach agreement on thorny issues that have pushed the government to the verge of collapse.
"Today there will be a joint statement, not from only the four parties but also the Islamic Party. There will be five parties, not four. This final statement will include a summary of all points of agreement," Maliki told a news conference.
Omar Abd al-Sattar, a member of the Islamic Party's political committee, said he was mystified by Maliki's comments.
"As a member of the party's political bureau I can tell you that we are not part of any deal made with these four parties," he said.
The U.S. ambassador to Iraq has questioned the credibility of an alliance that did not include Sunni Arabs in trying to further national reconciliation between Iraq's warring Shi'ite Muslim majority and Sunni Arab sects.
The new alliance aims to shore up Maliki's government and would have a big voting bloc in parliament.
Iraq's coalition government has been paralysed by infighting between political parties, which are deeply mistrustful of each other and reluctant to make compromises.
Nearly half of Maliki's cabinet has walked out, accusing the Shi'ite prime minister of sectarianism.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed and millions displaced in an explosion of violence triggered by the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in the town of Samarra in February 2006.
U.S. forces in Iraq have been boosted to 160,000 to give Maliki's government time to reach a political deal.
But none of the political benchmarks set by Washington have been met -- laws on sharing Iraq's oil revenues, setting a date for provincial elections and easing restrictions on former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party serving in the military and civil service have not yet gone to parliament.
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