- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s biggest Sunni political bloc committed itself yesterday to talks with Shi’ites and Kurds to form a government of national unity, but said its key demands, including changes to the constitution, must be met.

The United States, eager to drive the political process toward a stable consensus, wants the Kurds and majority Shi’ites, who dominated last month’s elections, to form a government that includes minority Sunnis. It hopes an inclusive coalition will undermine the raging Sunni Arab insurgency.

Insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades at a policeman’s home northeast of Baghdad, killing his four children and his brother and raising to at least 23 the number of Iraqis killed in attacks over the weekend.

Also yesterday, police found the bullet-riddled bodies of nearly two dozen men who were abducted last week north of Baghdad after being refused entry into a police academy, officials said.

There was still no word on the fate of kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll two days after a deadline set by her captors. They had threatened to kill the 28-year-old freelancer for the Christian Science Monitor unless all female Iraqi detainees were freed.

Iraqi officials have said they expect the Americans to free six of the nine women they are holding this week. U.S. authorities have not confirmed the claim.

The Iraqi Accordance Front, made up of three mainly Islamist Sunni Arab groups, said it would appeal against the results of an election it thinks was rigged, but would still take part in talks on a new coalition government.

“It will be active in talks with other political blocs to form a unity government,” said Tareq al-Hashemi, whose moderate Iraqi Islamic Party is the biggest member of the Iraqi Accordance Front.

Mr. al-Hashemi said the election results did “not reflect the political and population weight” of the Front, which thinks it should have won 11 more seats. The Sunni coalition would seek key ministries in the new government as compensation, he said.

The Front also intends to hold Shi’ites and Kurds to a promise, extracted under U.S. pressure, of reviewing the constitution approved in a referendum last October.

Many Sunnis fear the constitution’s provisions for regional autonomy will give Kurds and Shi’ites control over Iraq’s vast oil reserves and eventually break the country apart.

“We ask the blocs not to put obstacles in the way of making some changes to the constitution,” Mr. al-Hashemi said at a press briefing.

The attack on the policeman’s home occurred in Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, according to the Iraqi police Joint Coordination Center. Sunni-led insurgents often target police as part of their campaign to try to undermine support for the U.S.-backed government.

The bodies of the 23 men were found partially buried near Dujail, north of Baghdad, said Interior Ministry police Lt. Thair Mahmoud. They were abducted while traveling from Baghdad to their homes in Samarra.

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