- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006

BAGHDAD — Efforts to form a unity government suffered a new setback yesterday as Iraqi leaders postponed a parliament session after failing to agree on a prime minister. Bombs targeted Shi’ites near a mosque and on a bus as attacks nationwide killed at least 35 persons.

Four more Marines were reported killed in fighting west of Baghdad as the U.S. death toll for this month rose to 47 — compared with 31 for all of March.

U.S. officials think the best way to stem the violence is for the Iraqis to establish a government comprising Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds, paving the way for the United States to start withdrawing its 133,000 troops.

But progress has stalled over Sunni and Kurdish opposition to the Shi’ite choice of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to head the new government. With Mr. al-Jaafari refusing to step aside, acting Speaker Adnan Pachachi had called a parliament session for today, hoping the full legislature could agree on a new leadership after the politicians failed.

Yesterday, however, Mr. Pachachi announced a delay of “a few days” to give the religiously and ethnically based parties more time to agree on new candidates for prime minister, president and five other top posts that require parliamentary approval.

Before the announcement, Shi’ite official Hussain al-Shahristani told Sunni and Kurdish leaders that his bloc, which controls 130 of the 275 parliament seats, would decide what to do about Mr. al-Jaafari “within the coming two days,” Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said.

Majority Shi’ites have been giving similar assurances for the past two weeks, and it was not clear how soon the issue could be settled.

Voters chose the new parliament on Dec. 15, but the legislature met briefly only once last month.

The bitter fight over Mr. al-Jaafari has heightened friction among the rival parties, raising the specter of deadlock over other top jobs. Some Shi’ite officials say that if they must change their nominee for prime minister, other parties may not win approval of their first choices for major posts either.

For example, the Shi’ites rejected the Sunni nominee for parliament speaker, Tariq al-Hashimi. Disputes also emerged yesterday over the two deputy speakers and two vice presidents — jobs expected to go to Sunnis and Kurds.

“This delay will affect everything,” Sunni lawmaker Naseer al-Ani said. “The Shi’ites did not tell us the reasons behind rejecting al-Hashimi like we did about al-Jaafari. We’re still waiting to hear the reasons.”

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