Sunnis drop key demand

Muslim politicians wanted ex-members of Saddam's party to be part of the new Iraqi Cabinet.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Sunni Muslim politicians dropped their demand Monday to include former members of Saddam Hussein's party in Iraq's new Cabinet in a bid to get more ministries. The Sunni minority is believed to be the backbone of the insurgency and many blame the impasse in forming a new government for a resurgence in violence.
The development comes as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, joined by other top U.S. officials, is trying to persuade politicians from the Shiite majority and their Kurdish allies to wrap up negotiations to form a new government.
"We're going to continue to say it is important to keep momentum in the political process," Rice told reporters in Crawford, Texas, on Monday. "It's a two-way street," she said.
As leaders of Iraq's main Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions continued their backroom wheeling and dealing, Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari again put off his long-promised Cabinet announcement.
The National Dialogue Council, a coalition of 10 Sunni factions, initially requested 16 Cabinet seats. It submitted a list of candidates Sunday that included former members of Saddam's Baath party, said Jawad al-Maliki, a senior member of al-Jaafari's United Iraqi Alliance. But when that was rejected, they dropped the demand, he told reporters.
Alliance members, who control 148 seats in the 275-member National Assembly, refuse to give any top posts to members of the party that carried out Saddam's brutal suppression of the Shiites and Kurds.
The issue is just one of many obstacles that have bogged down negotiations since the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections. Most Sunnis either boycotted the vote or stayed away for fear of being attacked.
Al-Jaafari could present his Cabinet to parliament as soon as today, some alliance members said. But such forecasts have repeatedly proven wrong.
Balancing act
Al-Jaafari has had to balance demands by his predecessor, Ayad Allawi, for at least four ministries for his party, including a senior government post and a deputy premiership. Much of the discussion has focused on the Defense Ministry, which all agree should go to a Sunni, but which Allawi has argued should go to one from his Iraqi List party.
On Sunday, alliance lawmakers said al-Jaafari had decided to abandon attempts to include Allawi's party and offer Sunni representatives two more Cabinet seats, for a total of six.
Members of the Iraqi List, which controls 40 parliamentary seats, said the party had not been officially informed of the development.
"I don't see how it can be a national unity government without our participation," Iraqi List legislator Hussein al-Sadr said.
If Allawi's party is excluded, a spokesman for the Sunni coalition, Khalaf al-Aryan, said it would insist on at least seven ministries plus a deputy premiership. "If Allawi does take part, we'll negotiate and take less," he said.
Further complicating negotiations, a rival Sunni coalition entered the fray Monday, saying it too should have a place in the Cabinet. The Council of Arab and Sunni Negotiators and the National Dialogue Council both include groups that boycotted the elections and could help open talks with insurgents.
With attacks on the increase, there has been intense pressure to end the political bickering and form a government that can take charge of efforts to suppress the violence.
Rice telephoned Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdish Democratic Party, on Friday to ask him to finish forming a government as soon as possible, two State Department officials said Monday.
Stall tactics
Shiite lawmakers have accused some of their Kurdish allies of stalling negotiations in a bid to force out al-Jaafari, who automatically loses his position if he fails to form a government by May 7. Some Kurdish legislators want a more secular prime minister and one who favors a federal government that would give strong autonomy to the Kurdish north.
Rice also met at the White House Friday with Adil Abdul Mahdi, a Shiite politician who is slated to be one of Iraq's new vice presidents, one official said. Rice told him that the Bush administration wanted to see a government formed quickly.
Many here argue the political vacuum has emboldened the insurgency.
"The political situation has a real effect on the security situation," President Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, told Al-Arabiya television Monday. "If we reach a government that includes Sunni representatives, we will see an end to the insurgency from Sunnis."
But others say the ebb and flow of attacks has more to do with the level of security in the country. Attacks surged in the runup to the Jan. 30 elections, but faded as new restrictions came into effect and extra forces appeared in the streets, said Diaa Rashwan, an expert on radical Islam at Egypt's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
Day of violence
Three roadside bombs aimed at U.S. military convoys exploded in the capital Monday, including one that killed an American soldier, said Lt. Col. Clifford Kent of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division. At least 1,569 U.S. troops have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
The U.S. military said a suicide car bomb exploded Monday in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, wounding two civilians, and a 20-year-old Iraqi died at a U.S. military hospital of injuries he suffered two weeks ago while attacking coalition forces.
Militants also launched two attacks Monday aimed at Iraq's oil industry in the north, setting fire to pumps near Kirkuk and opening fire on police guarding a convoy of tanker trucks. Two officers were wounded and three insurgents arrested in a gunbattle over the convoy, police said.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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