Iraqi gov’t talks snarl

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Iraq’s Shiite leaders, divided over their choice for the next prime minister, cancelled a much-awaited parliament session on Sunday as rebel attacks across the country left at least 31 people dead.

The parliament session had initially been scheduled for Monday with hopes of breaking the impasse to forming a national unity government among Iraq’s Shiite, Sunnis and Kurds four months after a landmark election.

The deadlock has coincided with a surge in violence that has raised fears the country is on the edge of an all out civil war, with its political leaders, bound by religious and ethnic loyalties, utterly incapable of forging ahead.

“We decided to postpone for a few days the holding of the parliament,” said MP Bassem Sharif, a member of the parliament’s most powerful bloc, the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance.

The decision was taken “to give time to all the parliamentary blocs to finalise their candidates and reach an agreement on all the parliamentary posts,” Sharif said after a meeting with other political groups.

The main point of contention has been the 128-member Shiite bloc’s choice of embattled Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari as the next premier.

Baghdad’s new ambassador to Washington, Samir Sumaidaie, told CNN that a replacement was likely to be decided upon in the coming days. “A number of names have been mentioned. But leading amongst them is Ali Adib, who is from Jaafari’s own party,” Sumaidaie said, adding that he “would stand for the same things that Jaafari stands for.”

Acting parliamentary speaker Adnan Pachachi said the factions would take advantage of the postponement of the body’s second meeting to reach agreement on the cabinet and three-man presidential council.

Earlier Sunday, leaders of the minority Sunni and Kurdish parliamentary blocs said negotiations over Jaafari’s candidacy were unlikely to find a solution before Monday.

Sunnis and Kurds are opposed to Jaafari staying on as premier, blaming him for failing to curb sectarian violence.

Sunnis believe the Shiite-led government has stocked the interior ministry with death squads that are killing members of their own community, who are themselves blamed for much of the country’s bloodshed.

Meanwhile, the Sunni bloc also fears the Shiites — in a tit-for-tat political move — may oppose their candidates for other key Cabinet posts.

Zhafer Ani, spokesman of the Sunni-led National Concord Front, said his 44-member parliament bloc had finalised candidates for three posts. Top Sunni leader Adnan Dulaimi has been slated for vice president, Tareq Hashemi for parliament speaker and Khalaf Alyan for deputy prime minister.

Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman said Kurdish groups had not yet finalised their government list but insisted that outgoing head of state “Jalal Talabani will be the candidate for president.”

As the political negotiations were hit by further setbacks, at least 31 people were killed in a string of attacks in Iraq on Sunday, including bombings and shootings against a market and two minibuses.

In the deadliest attack, a car bombing near a market in the town of Mahmudiyah, 30 kilometres south of Baghdad, left 10 dead and 25 wounded, an interior ministry official said.

Gunmen shot dead seven construction workers and wounded three others in the restive northern Iraqi city of, Mosul, police said.

“They had finished working on a damaged police station and were travelling home in their car when they were ambushed by gunmen and shot dead,” a police officer said.

A bomb blast in a minibus in a Baghdad neighbourhood killed four people, and in a separate attack another four people travelling in a minibus near the restive town of Baqouba were killed when gunmen ambushed the bus and opened fire on it, police said.

Six more Iraqis were killed in various attacks across the country.

The US military announced that four Marines had been killed in enemy action Saturday in the western Anbar province, bringing the US military’s death toll in Iraq since the invasion to 2,373 according to an AFP count based on Pentagon figures.

A pre-dawn raid by the US military on a suspected Al Qaeda hideout southwest of Baghdad also left five alleged insurgents and a woman dead.

Gunmen, some dressed in police uniforms and driving police cars, kidnapped 15 employees from two Baghdad businesses — an investment firm and a mobile phone company — security sources said.

Police also announced that a top “terrorist” belonging to Ansar Sunna, an extremist militant group linked to Al Qaeda, was arrested in the northern city of Kirkuk.

“Acting on a tip, police arrested two men in Kirkuk, of which one was a Turkman known by the name of Baklandar, though his real name is Abdel Rahman Mohammad Ali and is a commander of Ansar Sunna,” said senior police officer Kamal Abdallah.

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