Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has called upon senior leaders in Iraq's divided communities to hold crisis talks in an effort to save his fraying national unity government.

Mr Maliki said he had invited all the major leaders to discuss what he described as substantial matters.

17 ministerial posts in his government are empty or filled by members boycotting cabinet meetings amid protests over Mr Maliki's faltering programme of national reconciliation.

Hopes that his so-called unity coalition can be saved now depend on the senior leadership of the rival parties cutting a new power-sharing deal that can convince the Sunni minority to return to the fold.

The Iraqi Prime Minister will join President Jalal Talabani and vice-President Adel Abdel Mahdi at the crisis summit.

US accuses Iran

A US General has claimed that Iran has increased supplies of weapons to Shia militias in Iraq.

Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno alleges this has been done to influence debate in Washington before the presentation of a crucial report on Iraq next month.

Lieutenant-General Odierno, the day-to-day commander of US troops in Iraq, said the US military was changing tactics and stepping up operations against militant car bomb and roadside bomb cells.

Iran denies any role in Iraq and says the US invasion in 2003 is the cause of sectarian strife.

Iranian and US officials met last week to discuss the formation of a new security committee aimed at improving cooperation on Iraq.