- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 5, 2005

BAGHDAD — Facing the prospect of a Shi’ite Muslim landslide, Sunni politicians yesterday offered to participate in mapping the nation’s political future. But Sunni rebels showed no sign of compromise, killing three U.S. troops and at least 33 Iraqis in a string of attacks.

Officials of the Shi’ite-led coalition that has rolled up a big lead in last weekend’s elections said it wants the prime minister’s post in the new government — casting doubt on chances that U.S.-backed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi can keep his job.

Mr. Allawi, whose ticket is running a distant second in election returns so far, had been seen as a possible compromise candidate if the Shi’ites and their allies don’t win the two-thirds of the 275 National Assembly seats needed to pick the government.

But the United Iraqi Alliance — a Shi’ite-led group whose leaders have ties to Iran — appeared confident it would have to be given the top spot.

“The alliance would like to get either the position of the president or the prime minister and it prefers that it be that of the prime minister,” Redha Taqi, a top official in one of the coalition factions, said.

The Iraqi election commission released no new election returns yesterday, but predicted it would announce final vote totals by Thursday.

Partial returns from about 35 percent of the 5,200 polling centers showed the alliance, which was endorsed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, with about two-thirds of the votes to 18 percent for Mr. Allawi, a secular Shi’ite. Shi’ite s are believed to make up two-thirds of Iraq’s 26 million people.

In a bid to avoid marginalization, a group of Sunni Arab parties said they want to take part in the drafting of a permanent constitution — a chief task of the new National Assembly.

The initiative was spearheaded by Sunni elder statesman Adnan Pachachi, who ran for a National Assembly seat. Mr. Pachachi told CNN he had talked with Shi’ite and Kurdish leaders about a role for the Sunnis in drafting a new constitution “and they all welcomed this idea.”

Nevertheless, armed Sunni groups showed little sign they were ready to join in a national reconciliation.

Strong detonations rumbled through Baghdad at sunset, and police said insurgents had fired mortar shells near Baghdad International Airport.

A U.S. Marine was killed yesterday during “security and stability operations” in Bail province south of Baghdad, the U.S. command said. Two American soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing Friday night near the town of Beiji, about 155 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. In addition at least 33 Iraqis were killed yesterday in attacks.

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