Monday, April 25, 2005

BAGHDAD — Sunni Muslim politicians yesterday dropped their demand to include former members of Saddam Hussein’s party in Iraq’s new Cabinet in a bid to get more ministries as leaders of the main Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish factions continued their backroom wheeling and dealing. Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari again put off his long-promised Cabinet announcement.

The National Dialogue Council, a coalition of 10 Sunni factions, initially requested 16 Cabinet seats. It submitted a list of candidates Sunday that included former members of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party, said Jawad al-Maliki, a senior member of Mr. al-Jaafari’s United Iraqi Alliance. When that was rejected, they dropped the demand, he told reporters.

Alliance members, who control 148 seats in the 275-member National Assembly, refuse to give any top posts to members of the party that carried out Saddam’s brutal suppression of the majority Shi’ites and Kurds.

The issue is just one of many obstacles that have slowed negotiations since the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections. Most Sunnis either boycotted the vote or stayed away for fear of being attacked.

Mr. al-Jaafari could present his Cabinet to parliament as soon as today, some alliance members said, but such forecasts repeatedly have proved wrong.

Mr. al-Jaafari has had to balance demands by his predecessor, Iyad Allawi, for at least four ministries for his party, including a senior government post and a deputy prime ministership. Much of the discussion has focused on the Defense Ministry, which all agree should go to a Sunni, but which Mr. Allawi has argued should go to one from his Iraqi List party.

On Sunday, alliance lawmakers said Mr. al-Jaafari had abandoned attempts to include Mr. Allawi’s party and offer Sunni representatives two more Cabinet seats, for a total of six.

Members of the Iraqi List, which controls 40 parliamentary seats, said the party had not been informed of the development officially.

An increase in attacks has intensified pressure to end the political bickering and form a government that can take charge of efforts to suppress the violence.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdish Democratic Party, on Friday to ask him to finish forming a government as soon as possible, two State Department officials said yesterday. Miss Rice also met at the White House on Friday with Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shi’ite politician who has been elected one of Iraq’s vice presidents, one official said.

Shi’ite lawmakers have accused some of their Kurdish allies of stalling negotiations in a bid to force out Mr. al-Jaafari, who automatically loses his position if he fails to form a government by May 7.

Meanwhile three roadside bombs aimed at U.S. military convoys exploded in the capital yesterday, including one that killed an American soldier, said Lt. Col. Clifford Kent of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division.

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