- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

From combined dispatches

SALAHADDIN, Iraq — Kurdish leaders deflated hopes yesterday for the rapid formation of a government in Iraq, when they refused to compromise on demands for joining a coalition with the country’s powerful Shi’ite bloc.

As negotiations dragged on, violence claimed the lives of two U.S. security contractors, and police made a grisly discovery of 12 rotting corpses south of Baghdad.

Six weeks after Iraq’s milestone elections, Kurdish leaders are insisting on changes to a draft agreement setting out the terms for an alliance with the Shi’ite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, the biggest winner in the new parliament.

The delays mean Iraq could be without a functioning government well past the first session of the new 275-member national assembly, which is scheduled to open Wednesday.

“There is progress, but the agreement still needs work and the participation of other political groups in the negotiations to form a government and enlarge its base,” said Fuad Massum, one of four Kurds negotiating with the Shi’ites.

“The special character of this period we are entering necessitates the participation of different forces in the government, not just two or three.”

His remarks suggested that the Kurds — unhappy with the religious character of the Shi’ite list — were trying to force an opening for outgoing Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who is still seeking a way to retain his job.

Kurdish negotiators said they would bring their revisions back to Baghdad for another round of talks with the alliance.

Alliance member Ali al-Faisal was one of the few representatives of the Shi’ite list who was willing to discuss the talks.

“I cannot say that the negotiations with the Kurds have collapsed, but no final agreement has been reached until now,” he said.

The plodding negotiations have triggered a wave of criticism from Shi’ite religious leaders who have demanded that the government be put in place to tackle the resistance behind daily attacks in the country.

The alliance has sought out the Kurds, whose 77 assembly seats have given them the second largest bloc in parliament, in order to attain the two-thirds majority needed to appoint a presidency council which then nominates the prime minister.

In return, the Kurds have been seeking an ironclad commitment from the Shi’ites that they will respect provisions regarding the city of Kirkuk in the interim constitution adopted last year.

That document sets out steps to redress the expulsion of about 100,000 Kurds from Kirkuk under toppled dictator Saddam Hussein and also provides for a secular and federal Iraq.

Observers fear terrorists will exploit the delayed process and erode the momentum gained by the Jan. 30 election.

In violence yesterday, a car-bomb attack aimed at a U.S. patrol on the eastern side of Baghdad killed two Iraqis including a 15-year-old boy and wounded at least 10, according to hospital and security sources.

Authorities also said two American security contractors were killed and a third was wounded Saturday by a roadside bomb on the main road to Hillah, south of Baghdad.

The three contractors were working for Blackwater Security, a North Carolina-based contracting firm that provides security for U.S. State Department officials in Iraq.

Also yesterday, a security source said 12 corpses, which had been rotting for a month, were found by the Iraqi army 20 miles south of Baghdad.

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