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 a significant 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, including higher education and communications. Four other Cabinet posts were filled by Shiites.
The Front pulled its members from the 39-member Cabinet last August, complaining 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.
Sunni Arabs, who represent about 20 percent of the country, were highly favored under Saddam Hussein but the tables turned after his ouster when Iraq's majority Shiites held sway. The rivalries spilled over into a wave of sectarian killings and al-Qaida bombings apparently aimed at triggering civil war.
Iraq's sharply improved security situation is already bringing plans for a pared-down British force.
On a visit to Baghdad, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said plans are being made to scale back troops in Iraq, but refused to consider an "artificial timetable" for withdrawing Britain's remaining 4,000 soldiers.
No specific troop withdrawal figures have been made public, but a senior British military officer has predicted substantial troop cuts in Iraq next year.
"It is certainly our intention that we reduce troop numbers, but I am not going to give an artificial timetable at the moment," Brown said following talks with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani.
Although Britain maintains the second-largest foreign military force in Iraq, it is dwarfed by the approximately 150,000 U.S. soldiers currently in the country.