- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2006

BAGHDAD — Iraqi politicians, encouraged by an agreement on a new prime minister, worked to form a government yesterday amid continuing violence that killed three U.S. soldiers in the capital and left at least 27 Iraqis dead.

The largest Sunni Arab party raised new accusations of sectarian killings — one of the most urgent issues facing the new leadership.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the next government must decommission sectarian militias and integrate them into the national armed forces, warning that the armed groups represent the “infrastructure for civil war.”

The deaths yesterday raised to eight the number of U.S. troops killed in the past two days. At least 61 American service members have died in April, compared with 31 in March. The three soldiers were killed when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb northwest of the capital.

Seven Iraqis were killed when three mortars hit outside the Green Zone in Baghdad, not far from the Defense Ministry. At least eight mortars or rockets exploded on the other side of the Tigris River in central Baghdad, without causing injuries, police said.

The violence underlined the challenge as Prime Minister-designate Jawad al-Maliki began to assemble a Cabinet from among Iraq’s Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish parties.

President Bush called Mr. al-Maliki, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and the parliament speaker — all named on Saturday — and urged the quick formation of a coalition government.

“They have awesome responsibilities to their people,” Mr. Bush told military families in the mess hall at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Palm Springs, Calif. “Democracy in Iraq will be a major blow to the terrorists who want to do us harm.”

Mr. al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, has 30 days to do it, but more than four months after the parliamentary elections, the parties are under enormous pressure to complete the process quickly.

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