- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 11, 2006

BAGHDAD — Shi’ite politicians postponed selecting a new prime minister as rivalry within their alliance forced a delay in the balloting. Meanwhile, an Iraqi army spokesman was assassinated in Basra, a southern city plagued by lawlessness and violence by Shi’ite militias.

Members of the Shi’ite alliance who won seats in parliament in the December election gathered in Baghdad to discuss their choice for prime minister, but postponed a vote for at least a day at the request of radical cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr’s faction.

Shi’ite officials who attended the meeting, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the delay was a result of last-minute differences between Sheik al-Sadr’s faction and another group within the alliance.

Speculation for the top government job has fallen on Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi and the current prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Each is supported by two major factions in the Shi’ite alliance.

Choosing a new prime minister, and in turn forming a long-term government, are key steps in Iraq’s sluggish political process that the United States — and many Iraqis — hope will lead to an end to the bloodshed and an improvement in the daily lives for this country’s 27 million people.

But the violence underscored the worsening sectarian nature of the country’s conflict and the dangers facing Iraqi security forces, which the United States hopes will be able to control the insurgency so U.S.-led forces can go home.

An Iraqi tribal leader, Sheik Osama al-Jadaan, said his followers have seized more than 1,400 “terrorists” in a three-month counterinsurgency operation that began about a month ago along the Iraq-Syria border.

“This campaign aims at restoring security on the Iraqi-Syrian borders until the formation of the government and in assisting Iraqi forces to take control on Anbar” province, Sheik al-Jadaan said.

U.S. authorities have touted efforts by some Iraqi groups to combat foreign fighters and Iraqi insurgent groups in Anbar, where the insurgency is also influenced by tribal rivalries. U.S. military officials have been recruiting scouts among Sheik al-Jadaan’s tribe after a rival tribe threw its support to the insurgents.

In the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi, a U.S. Marine helicopter fired two rockets yesterday into an insurgent hide-out, killing six militants and wounding another, said Marine spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Pool.

The rocket attack followed clashes between U.S. soldiers and militants near the soccer stadium in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad. The wounded insurgent was taken to a military hospital for treatment and will be questioned.

In nearby Fallujah, gunmen in a red sedan fatally shot a policeman yesterday as he was heading to work, police said.

Iraqi army spokesman Capt. Makram al-Abbasi was killed in a hail of gunfire from a civilian car accompanied by a police vehicle yesterday in Basra, army Capt. Firas al-Tamimi said.

The British-controlled southern city had been noted for its relative stability but has seen renewed violence, in part fueled by rival Shi’ite militias and local opposition to the coalition troop presence.

Capt. al-Abbasi, a Sunni Arab, had been coordinating press coverage of raids conducted in the city, which largely target suspected Shi’ite militiamen that Sunnis say have infiltrated the Iraqi police force.

The most recent such operation for which Capt. al-Abbasi arranged coverage was last week when troops detained 22 persons before all were mysteriously freed, Capt. al-Tamimi said.

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