Tuesday, March 15, 2005

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s elected lawmakers agreed to a largely ceremonial opening of a new parliament today, with no government to announce and no designated official to preside over the historical milestone in postwar Iraq.

Iraqi politicians conceded that the delay was dashing expectations.

“People were thinking that, after the election, there would immediately be a National Assembly, but the long gap has created some kind of depression among people,” said Hamdiya Ahmad Najaf, an incoming parliamentarian on the list of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, leader of the interim government now in power.

Meanwhile, car bombings killed five Iraqi civilians and one American soldier.

U.S. Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, predicted to reporters traveling with him on a swing through Iraq that insurgent violence would surge in the weeks ahead as the National Assembly is convened and the government takes shape.

As of last night, uncertainty governed most aspects of today’s session, from who will preside over the parliament — one U.S. official speculated it would be the oldest member of the parliament — to what would be discussed.

The session, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. local time, will be held in the Baghdad Convention Center, under tight security inside the U.S.-controlled green zone.

One U.S. official said six or seven parliamentarians would make speeches.

But politicians’ inability to form a government — more than six weeks after millions of Iraqi voters braved suicide bombs and death threats to participate in elections — has begun to unnerve some Iraqis.

“We’ve gone and voted and risked our lives,” said Ehsan Shamari, a 32-year-old real estate agent. “They haven’t reached an agreement between themselves yet. How will they reach an agreement with the people? Apparently, their political interests are more important than the people’s interests.”

The Shi’ite and Kurdish political coalitions that won most of the seats in the elections continued to haggle over two big issues — the status of the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk and the Kurds’ powerful “peshmerga” military force, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

The Kurds want to keep control over the peshmerga and want a commitment to make Kirkuk part of a federal Kurdish area. They also want Mr. Allawi’s list, which won only 14 percent of the popular vote, included in the government.

The Kurds, led by Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani, and the Shi’ites, with the blessing of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani , have been squabbling over these issues for weeks.

“They’re fairly close,” said a U.S. official in the green zone, speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity. “The areas that they define as continuing to divide them differ from day to day and party to party. There are many moving parts, especially since they are both coalitions.”

Under Iraq’s parliamentary system, a two-thirds majority of seats is required to create a government.

Earlier this month, officials from the Shi’ite list announced a deal to give Shi’ite leader Ibrahim Jaffari the powerful post of prime minister, while giving Mr. Talabani the presidency.

Until a government is formed, Mr. Allawi remains in charge.

Mr. Allawi’s party, which had expected to do better in the Jan. 30 elections, likely will abstain from taking any government posts and act as an opposition, said Raja Khuzai, another member of Mr. Allawi’s coalition.

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