Iraq's president urged the nation's bickering factions Saturday to resolve the bitter political dispute that has gripped the government for almost six months, warning that the crisis threatens to split the country.
President Jalal Talabani's statement, posted on his website, is the latest plea for an end to the crisis that has engulfed Iraq since Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government issued an arrest warrant for the country's Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, in December.
Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish politicians have been holding meetings for weeks to discuss how to resolve the deadlock, including whether to try to push al-Maliki to step down before the end of his four-year term in 2014. Al-Maliki's critics accuse him of consolidating power and sidelining both Sunnis and Kurds, touching off a political impasse that has brought government work to a near standstill.
Already, the president of Iraq's northern Kurdish region has said he will hold a referendum on whether to secede if the deadlock is not solved by local elections set for September.
"I am firmly convinced of the seriousness of the current circumstances which require that we speed up efforts to sit at the table of constructive and fraternal dialogue," said Talabani, a Kurd, whose post is largely ceremonial.
Otherwise, he said, the crisis "could lead to growing tensions and exacerbate the risks and problems."
Talabani in the past has played the role of a mediator in Iraq's frequent political disputes.
Al-Maliki issued his own plea for talks Saturday, saying "dialogue and clarity is what can bring good."