Iraq govt seen delayed; violence hits Baghdad
Last-minute disagreements appeared to have derailed Iraq's hopes of unveiling a government on Thursday, nearly three months after elections, with negotiations also strained by a surge in violence.
"I think the government will not be announced today ... We want to see the Sunni Arabs represented as well ... Negotiations also continue over the allocation of some posts," the Kurdish leader told Turkey's CNN Turk television in an interview.
Disputes surfaced at a meeting late on Wednesday, with caretaker Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who narrowly escaped assassination shortly after the talks, rejecting an offer to join the cabinet, sources involved in the negotiations said.
"The talks were going well, but the Shi'ites offered Allawi just two ministries, not the four that he wants, and he rejected the offer," one source said, referring to ministries offered to Allawi's political grouping.
"There was also continued disagreement over what ministries the Sunnis should get. The question really is whether the Shi'ites want to create a government of national unity, or just a Shi'ite-Kurd government," he said.
Shi'ite politicians said they were still hoping to announce a deal later in the day, but could not say when.
"We have made progress. An announcement will be made," said a senior official in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the main Shi'ite party.
There has been furious debate over the makeup of the government for nearly three months, since elections were held on Jan. 30, an event which handed power to Iraq's majority Shi'ite community after decades of Sunni Muslim domination.
The constant delays in forming a government have heightened tensions between Shi'ites and Sunnis at the leadership level, and also appear to have fuelled the insurgency.
Immediately after January's election there appeared to be a tapering in militant activity, with the country buoyed by the fact that more than 8 million people had turned out to vote. But in recent weeks violence has returned.
Since early April there has been a marked step up in suicide car bombings, shootings and other attacks, both in Baghdad and around the country. In the past week, there have been almost 20 car bombings in the capital alone.
On Thursday, a roadside bomb hit a convoy carrying foreign security contractors on the road to Baghdad's airport, killing two people. Their nationalities were not known.
Three foreign contractors were killed on the same stretch of road on Wednesday, and two US soldiers were killed in the same vicinity the day before.
The road to the airport, not much longer than a few kilometres (miles) and flanked by US military bases on both sides, remains one of the most dangerous stretches in the entire country, more than two years after the US-led invasion.
The inability to secure the route, an essential link for military and civilian supplies, as well as the only safe point of entry and exit to the capital, has come to symbolise the difficulty US forces have had in taking on the insurgency.
The surge in violence, underlined by the closeness of the assassination attempt on Allawi, one of the most protected men in the country, comes amid a general elevation in tension, especially between the Shi'ite and Sunni communities.
Al Qaeda in Iraq, a group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for the assassination attempt in a statement on the Internet. The group has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks over the last month.
Talabani said on Wednesday that the bodies of more than 50 people, believed to be those of Shi'ites said to have been taken hostage in the town of Madaen, near Baghdad, last week, had been found in the Tigris river south of the capital.
Shi'ite officials were the first to claim last Saturday that dozens of Shi'ites had been taken hostage by Sunni gunmen in Madaen, but searches of the town by Iraqi security forces failed to find any evidence of hostages or gunmen.
Some government and religious officials then suggested that the story had been fabricated for political purposes. That aggravated tensions and later led Shi'ite officials to say that evidence of the bodies had been found.
It is still not clear that the bodies found in the river are those of the people said to have been taken hostage. Police in the area say the bodies have been recovered over the past several weeks, not since the hostage crisis.
Talabani said details of the names of those killed would be released soon.