BAGHDAD -- Iraq's largest Sunni Arab political bloc returned to the government fold Saturday after calling off a nearly one-year boycott of the Shiite-dominated leadership -- another critical stride toward healing sectarian rifts.
The return of the National Accordance Front does more than politically reunite some of Iraq's main centers of power.
It was seen as an advance toward reconciliation and efforts to cement security cooperation between Shiite-led forces and armed Sunni groups that rose up against al-Qaida in Iraq.
The United States has pressured Iraq's government to work toward settling the sectarian feuds, which brought daily bloodshed until recent months. The hope is that more parties staked in the future of Iraq could mean a quicker exit for U.S. and other foreign forces.
The break in the Iraqi political impasse came after parliament unanimously backed Sunni candidates to fill the post of deputy prime minister and head five midlevel ministries. Four other Cabinet posts were filled by Shiites.
The Front pulled its members from the 39-member Cabinet last August, saying it was sidelined in important decisions. The political rift left al-Maliki's government without partners in bids to find common ground with Sunni leaders.
"What happened today is a national step forward to boost the government's role and take the national reconciliation ahead," said the bloc's spokesman, Saleem Abdullah.