- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 19, 2006

BAGHDAD — Iraqi political parties have run into major obstacles in talks on a new national unity government, raising the possibility of a lengthy delays, officials said yesterday.

Meanwhile, in northeastern Iraq, search parties alerted by a shepherd found the wreckage of a German private plane that went missing in bad weather three days earlier with five Germans and one Iraqi on board. Iraqi and U.S. officials said there was no sign of survivors.

Gunmen ambushed a convoy of trucks carrying construction material to the U.S. military north of Baghdad, killing four Iraqi drivers. A police general also died in a roadside bombing in northern Iraq.

U.S. officials hope a new government with representatives of all of Iraq’s religious and ethnic communities can help calm violence, enabling U.S. and other foreign troops to begin going home.

But officials from the Shi’ite and Kurdish blocs said the talks between the two groups had revealed major policy differences.

The political parties have decided to negotiate a program for the new government before dividing up Cabinet posts — a step that itself is bound to prove contentious and time-consuming.

Leaders from the Shi’ite majority oppose a Kurdish proposal to set up a council to oversee government operations, the officials said. Shi’ites also reject a Kurdish proposal for major government decisions to be made by consensus among the major parties rather than a majority vote in the Cabinet.

“If the position of the Shi’ite alliance is final, then things will be more complicated, and the formation of the government might face delays,” Kurdish negotiator Mahmoud Othman said.

Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, meanwhile, said he rejects the Iraqi Constitution backed by other Shi’ite parties, threatening to reignite one of the country’s most explosive issues.

“I reject this constitution, which calls for sectarianism, and there is nothing good in this constitution at all,” he told Al Jazeera television on Saturday.

Sheik al-Sadr’s influence was boosted dramatically this month when his parliamentary bloc was instrumental in giving Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari the nomination of the dominant Shi’ite coalition to serve another term.

The wrecked German plane had been en route to Iraq from Azerbaijan carrying employees of a Bavarian construction company when it went missing during stormy weather Thursday night.

“Everything I’ve seen suggests this is an aviation accident” and was not the result of any “hostile intervention,” said U.S. Embassy official Peter McHugh in Baghdad.

The convoy ambush occurred near Nibaie, about 35 miles north of the capital, police Lt. Khalid al-Obaidi said. He said insurgents killed four drivers and set several vehicles afire.

Also yesterday, police found bodies of six men — bound, blindfolded and shot execution-style — in two locations of the capital. They appeared to be the latest victims of sectarian tit-for-tat killings.

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