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Leaders fail to form Iraq coalition government
Updated: 2005-03-16 04:13

Kurdish and Shiite leaders agreed to convene Iraq's new parliament Wednesday despite their apparent failure to complete a deal to form a coalition government. Car bombs exploded Tuesday in Baghdad, killing a U.S. soldier and at least five Iraqis, authorities said.

Six other American troops were wounded in one of the blasts. Iraqi police and witnesses reported at least three bombings around the capital.

In Rome, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Tuesday that Italy will start withdrawing its 3,000 troops from Iraq in September, Italian news agencies reported. Withdrawing Italian troops "will depend on the capability of the Iraqi government to give itself structures for acceptable security," the ANSA news agency quoted Berlusconi as saying.

Shiite officials said Tuesday that they failed to reach final agreement in talks with both the Kurds and the country's Sunni Arab community. But those failures were not enough to prevent the 275-member National Assembly from convening for the first time since the Jan. 30 elections.

Talks with Sunni Arabs focused on naming a parliament speaker. It remained unclear if they would present a candidate on Wednesday.

"The Kurds want to make some amendments on the deal, and we are going to finish soon, Thursday to be exact. We do not want to impose any name from our side regarding the post of the parliament speaker. We want the Sunnis to nominate some persons for this post, but till now they have not done this," United Iraqi Alliance member Ali al-Dabagh told The Associated Press after talks with Sunni leaders.

They included Interim President Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni Arab, the Iraqi Islamic Party and Iraqi nationalist leader Adnan Pachachi.

Sunni Arabs, who make up only about 20 percent of the population but were the dominant group under Saddam Hussein's regime, largely stayed away from the elections either to honor a boycott call or because they feared being attacked at the polls by insurgents.

They are believed to make up the core of the insurgency and including them in the political process was seen as a way to isolate the militants.

A car bomb targeting a U.S. military convoy exploded on a road about 500 yards from the main avenue leading to Baghdad's international airport, police Capt. Thamir Talib said. Four civilians were killed and seven were wounded, including two police officers, he said.

Witnesses said some American troops also were wounded, although that was not confirmed by U.S. officials. When U.S. forces arrived to evacuate them, another car bomb exploded, wounding more troops. One Humvee was destroyed and two civilian cars were in flames, witnesses said.

A U.S. military spokesman said he was checking into the report.

A later statement, issued by the U.S. military, said a soldier was killed and six others were injured at 10 a.m., about the same time as the reported attack near the airport road. It said "several local nationals and one Iraqi policeman were also wounded."

Another suicide car bomb exploded in northeastern Baghdad, killing one child and wounding at least four people, including a police officer, police Col. Muhanad Sadoun said. The bomber was trying to hit a patrol of traffic police but crashed into a tree, Sadoun said.

In Mosul, the U.S. military said Tuesday that six insurgents were killed and four were injured Monday in clashes with U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Separately, a U.S. Marine with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force died Monday in Anbar, a troubled province that has been a hotbed of guerrilla activity and includes the cities of Fallujah, Ramadi and Qaim, officials said Tuesday.

At least 1,516 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Around Qaim, near the Syrian border, a U.S. Marine transport helicopter and a Cobra gunship destroyed a truck whose occupants used a mounted machine gun to fire on them, Marine Maj. Sean Gibson said. Both aircraft returned safely to a nearby base and no one aboard was injured, he said.

In northern Iraq, insurgents blew up an oil pipeline connecting the Kirkuk fields with a refinery in Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, an official in the Northern Oil Co. said. The pipeline is used only for domestic deliveries, the official said on condition of anonymity. He did not have details on the extent of the damage.

The Shiite clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance and a Kurdish coalition, which won the two biggest blocks of seats in January's landmark elections, agreed last week to form a coalition government with Islamic Dawa Party leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari as prime minister. In return, Jalal Talabani will become Iraq's first Kurdish president.

On Tuesday, Iraqi authorities stepped up security around the heavily fortified Green Zone, where the parliament will meet. Two bridges leading to the Green Zone were shut down by Iraqi security forces, and roadblocks were erected on other streets leading to the area.

The U.S.-led coalition press office issued a statement saying the newly elected members will take the oath of office Wednesday. They will then elect the parliament speaker and two deputies, as well was the new transitional government's three-member Presidency Council the president and two vice presidents.

The Shiite alliance won 140 seats in the National Assembly, but needs the Kurds' 75 seats to assemble the two-thirds majority required to elect a president, who will then nominate the prime minister.

Meanwhile, authorities in Najaf, south of Baghdad, arrested a suspect believed to have been involved in the 2003 assassination of Shiite leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, said police chief Maj. Gen. Ghaleb al-Jazaeri.

Ramzy Hashim was arrested 10 days ago and confessed that he was one of the assailants in the Aug. 29, 2003, attack outside a Najaf mosque that killed more than 85 people, including al-Hakim.

The Baghdad office of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the cleric's younger brother and leader of the alliance, confirmed that a suspect involved in the assassination was detained in Najaf more than a week ago.

Al-Jazaeri added that Hashim allegedly came to Najaf with other accomplices to carry out attacks on the office of Iraq's top Shiite authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Also, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said organized crime and criminals-for-hire appear to be taking a bigger role in the insurgency, although former Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters still pose a major threat.

"That may be a larger piece of what we're seeing out there, as opposed to hardcore insurgents," he said. Some are "people just executing crimes to make money and to gain influence," and some aim to intimidate, "much like organized crime has done in other parts of the world," he added.

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