Brother of Iraqi Sunni leader killed

BAGHDAD (Reuters) — Gunmen killed the brother of a top Iraqi Sunni politician, officials said on Monday, in the second killing in days of a relative of a Sunni leader as deadlock over a unity government showed no sign of loosening. One day after Monday’s parliamentary session was delayed to give bickering politicians more time to form a government aimed at averting civil war, the body of Saleh Mutlak’s brother was identified in a Baghdad morgue.

Mutlak, a wealthy businessman with links to former Baathists close to the insurgency, heads an Arab nationalist list which has 11 seats in parliament.

The body of his brother, kidnapped three weeks ago, had bullet wounds to the head, interior ministry sources said.

The discovery, after gunmen shot dead the brother of leading Sunni politician Tareq Hashemi on Thursday, threatens to intensify sectarian tensions between Iraq’s majority Shiite community and minority Sunni Arabs.

The bodies of 12 shooting victims, some showing signs of torture, were found in different areas of Baghdad on Monday, interior ministry sources said.

Highlighting Iraq’s security crisis, about 50 insurgents mounted a brazen attack on Iraqi forces in Baghdad early on Monday, prompting US troops to provide support in a battle that lasted seven hours, said an American military spokesman.

The guerrillas attacked Iraqi forces in the mostly Sunni Arab district of Adhamiya in northern Baghdad overnight, forcing other Iraqi toops to come to their aid.

Five rebels were killed and one member of the Iraqi forces was wounded. There were no US casualties, said the spokesman.

“It was quite a battle. It lasted seven hours,” said the spokesman.

A wave of reprisal killings unleashed by the February bombing of a Shiite shrine has pushed Iraq towards the brink of civil war three years after US forces invaded.

After months of resisting Sunni and Kurdish opposition to Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari as its nominee for a second term, the ruling Shiite alliance floated a new candidate during closed-door talks on Sunday to end the political deadlock.

But on Monday, a senior member of Jaafari’s Dawa Party said Jaafari was still officially the alliance’s nominee, suggesting the impasse over the premiership may be far from over.

“The alliance is still holding Jaafari as its nominee for the prime minister’s post,” Jawad Maliki told state television.

Jaafari was nominated during an internal vote of Shiite legislators in February, but Sunnis, Kurds and even some Shiites are demanding a new candidate, saying the soft-spoken Islamist physician has failed to curb violence.

Acting Speaker Adnan Pachachi, who on Sunday postponed Monday’s parliament session to give blocs more time to bury their differences, told Reuters on Monday he would convene the 275-seat assembly “very soon, hopefully in the next few days.”

More disputes

Even if Shiite legislators overcome the row over Jaafari, there are signs of more disputes ahead over other government posts.

The alliance, the largest bloc in parliament, says it opposes the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front’s decision to nominate Hashemi as speaker of parliament.

Four months of political wrangling has followed December elections. Failure to agree on the speaker and the president could delay for at least another month the formation of Iraq’s first full-term government since Saddam Hussein was toppled.

The United States has been putting pressure on Iraqi leaders to form a coalition government. Washington hopes a government comprising Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds will foster stability and allow it to begin withdrawing troops.

The violence has meanwhile continued unabated.

Seven bodies with bullet wounds were discovered in Baghdad’s mostly Sunni Arab Dora district and two were found in Kadhimiya, a Shiite area of the capital, interior ministry sources said.

Three bodies were found in Baghdad’s mostly Shiite district of Shula showing signs of torture, the sources added.

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