Shi’ites, Kurds in Iraq form alliance

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BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi prime minister and president today announced a new alliance of moderate Shi’ites and Kurds in a push to save the crumbing government. They said a key Sunni bloc refused to join but the door remained open to them.

The political pact came amid a grim backdrop: more bodies being pulled from the rubble of the most deadly suicide bombing assault of the war.

An Interior Ministry spokesman set the death toll in northwestern Iraq at least 400 from Tuesday’s attacks against a small religious sect. Earlier, some authorities outside the government said at least 500 people died.

Tents, food aid, clean water and medicine were rushed to the area.

In Baghdad, a car bomb struck a parking garage in a central commercial district during the morning rush hour, killing at least nine people and wounding 17, police said. Smoke poured out of the seven-story concrete building, and food and merchandise stalls below were left charred.

The U.S. military also said two soldiers had been killed and six wounded the day before in fighting north of Baghdad, raising the number of American troop deaths to at least 44 this month.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the new political agreement was the first step to unblocking political stagnation that has gripped his Shi’ite-led government since it took power in May 2006. However, the announcement, after three days of intense negotiations, was disappointing because it did not include Iraq’s Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and his moderate Iraqi Islamic Party.

Mr. al-Maliki has been criticized for having a Shi’ite bias and failing to stop Iraq’s sectarian violence, which persists despite the presence of tens of thousands of extra U.S. troops.

“This agreement is a first step,” Mr. al-Maliki said. “It is not final, and the door is still open for all who agree with us on the need to push the political process forward.”

At the news conference announcing the accord, Mr. al-Maliki was flanked by President Jalal Talabani, leader of the northern autonomous Kurdish region, elder Kurdish statesman Massoud Barzani and Shi’ite Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi.

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