Monday, February 20, 2006
AP: Iraqis hit snag on forming government
By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writer -- Monday, 1 hour, 15 minutes ago
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi political parties have run into major obstacles in talks on a new national unity government, officials said Sunday, raising the possibility of a major delay that would be a setback to U.S. hopes for a significant reduction in troop levels this year.
In this photograph released by the Iraqi Prime Minister's office Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, right, is seen during a meeting with Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Arab League envoy to Iraq, Mustafa Osman, in Baghdad, Feb. 19, 2006. (AP Photo/Iraqi Prime Minister office).
Also Monday, the U.S. ambassador towarned Iraqi politicians that the United States will not invest the resources of the American people in institutions run by sectarians in an apparent sign of U.S. displeasure over the direction of talks to form a unity government.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, in a rare press conference, urged Iraq's leaders to come together for the sake of the country. He said failure by the Iraqis to form a broad-based government that does not favor a single sect threatens to upset U.S. plans to transfer power to the Iraqis so that U.S. forces can begin to go home.
U.S. officials hope a new government that includes representatives of all Iraq's religious and ethnic communities can help calm violence by luring the Sunni Arab minority away from the Sunni-dominated insurgency so that U.S. and other foreign troops can begin to head home.
But prospects for a broad-based coalition taking power soon appeared in doubt after officials from the Shiite and Kurdish blocs told The Associated Press that talks between the two groups had revealed major policy differences.
The political parties have decided to negotiate a program for the new government before dividing up Cabinet posts a step that itself is also bound to prove contentious and time-consuming.
Leaders from Iraq's Shiite majority oppose a Kurdish proposal to set up a council to oversee government operations, the officials said. Shiites also reject a Kurdish proposal for major government decisions to be made by consensus among the major parties rather than a majority vote in the Cabinet.
"If the position of the Shiite alliance is final, then things will be more complicated and the formation of the government might face delays," Kurdish negotiator Mahmoud Othman said.
Shiites believe the Kurdish proposals would dilute the power that Shiites feel they earned by winning the biggest number of seats in Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. But while Shiite parties control 130 of the 275 seats, that is not enough to govern without partners.
"Some parties are trying to undermine efforts to form a new government," Shiite politician Ammar Toamah said. "These blocs should not necessarily participate in government."
He also said the Kurdish coalition, which controls 53 seats, was pushing for a role for a secular group led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a Shiite whose party won 25 seats.
Many Shiites oppose Allawi because of his secular views and his role in the U.S. attack on Shiite militias in Najaf and Karbala in 2004 when he was prime minister.
Shiites and Kurds were partners in the outgoing interim government, and talks with Sunni Arabs are likely to be even more difficult because Sunnis refuse to brand all insurgents as terrorists. U.S. officials believe a strong Sunni role is essential if the new government is to undermine the insurgency.
Forming a new governing coalition is crucial to the U.S. strategy for drawing down its forces in Iraq. Under the new constitution, the new government is supposed to be complete by mid-May, but some U.S. officials believe the process could take longer.
A long delay could affect American plans to hand over more security responsibility to the Iraqi military a move that could be risky without a civilian government in place.
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