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New York Times

BAGHDAD - In the first sign that Iraq's leaders may yet halt a sectarian political crisis that has raised fears of civil war, Iraq's Sunni leaders said Sunday they would end their boycott of parliament.

The Iraqiya coalition, a largely Sunni-backed group of lawmakers that won the most seats in the 2010 parliamentary elections but was unable to build a governing coalition, will return to parliament, a spokeswoman said in a statement.

The move does not signal the end of Iraq's political crisis, which erupted days after the withdrawal of the U.S. military last month when Iraqiya announced its boycott to protest what it saw as the Shiite-dominated government's attempts to sideline Sunnis. Those underlying issues have not been resolved. The standoff escalated after the boycott was announced when the government issued an arrest warrant for the Sunni vice president.

But the group's decision eases tensions, paving the way for the political leadership to hold a national summit meeting to discuss reconciliation among Iraq's three main ethnic factions - Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

"As a goodwill gesture, Iraqiya announces its return to parliament meetings to create a healthy atmosphere to help the national conference, and to seek guarantees for the conference to succeed and defuse the political crisis," the Iraqiya spokeswoman, Maysoon al-Damluji, said at a news conference, according to Reuters. Iraqiya said a separate boycott of Cabinet meetings, which has paralyzed the government, is still in place.

The concession came a day after Vice President Joe Biden made another round of calls to Iraqiya leaders, urging them to return to parliament so the leadership could hold a national conference, which Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has been trying to arrange. Biden, according to a White House statement released Saturday, spoke to Iraqiya's leader, Ayad Allawi, and the speaker of parliament, Osama Nujaifi.