Iraqi parties break a deadlock on candidatesBAGHDAD The major political parties of Iraq agreed Tuesday evening to appoint a president and two vice presidents at a meeting of the national assembly on Wednesday, breaking a two-month deadlock and taking the first significant step in forming a new government.
The presidency council will have two weeks from its appointment to name a prime minister, who will select a cabinet. The new government would then have to be approved by a majority vote of the assembly, according to the interim constitution.
The main Shiite and Kurdish political blocs have agreed to name Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader, as president; Adel Abdul Mehdi, a prominent Shiite Arab politician as one vice president; and Sheik Ghazi al-Yawar, the Sunni Arab president of the interim government, as the other vice president, said Hussein al-Shahristani, a vice speaker of the assembly.
The agreement breaks an enormous impasse between the main parties that had threatened to destroy the confidence built up during the Jan. 30 elections, when Iraqis defied insurgent threats to walk in droves to polling stations.
A two-thirds vote by the 275-member assembly is required to install the presidency council, and so the Shiite and Kurdish blocs, which together can meet the two-thirds requirement, haggled for weeks over a range of issues, from control of oil revenues to the role of Islam in the new government.
More recently, the two blocs argued with Sunni Arab parties over who should get the top jobs in the government. Until all those issues were settled, the parties were unwilling to agree to vote in a presidency council. But the bickering has been eroding the trust of ordinary Iraqis, who, amid continuing violence and tough living conditions, have been demanding that a government be appointed soon. American commanders have also been warning that the lack of a government could lead to an increase in violence.
Shahristani, a nuclear physicist and prominent member of the Shiite bloc, said the presidency council could officially appoint the prime minister as soon as late Wednesday or Thursday. The leading candidate for that job is Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the head of the Dawa Islamic Party, a religious Shiite party.
The political stalemate ended as American and Iraqi officials reported a wave of violence that resulted in the deaths of four American troops and at least one Iraqi Army officer.
Two of the Americans and the Iraqi officer were killed in a pitched battle on Monday with dozens of insurgents in eastern Iraq, the American military said. The battle began at 4 p.m., when two battalions of the Iraqi Army came across the guerrillas during a search operation for weapons in a remote part of Diyala Province, the military said. American forces sent in air support and troops from the 278th Regimental Combat Team.
The battle was the most recent in a string of engagements in which American and Iraqi troops fought large bands of insurgents. Last Saturday, 40 to 60 insurgents made a coordinated assault on Abu Ghraib prison. Iraqi and American forces last month raided a lakeside training camp that housed at least 80 insurgents north of Baghdad. That came days after an U.S. convoy repelled an attack by dozens of insurgents in the town of Salman Pak, southeast of Baghdad. American military officials say it is unclear whether the insurgents have changed their tactics and begun organizing large-scale operations.
The military said a soldier with Task Force Baghdad died on Tuesday morning when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb while on patrol in the southern part of the capital. A marine died on Monday from an explosion in Anbar Province, the restive desert region dominated by Sunni Arabs west of Baghdad.
An Interior Ministry official said that about 50 armed Shiite Arabs blocked off a road southeast of Baghdad on Tuesday and detained 40 Sunni Arabs in retaliation for a kidnapping incident the previous day, in which seven Shiites were abducted by extremist Sunnis. Someone reported the presence of the roadblock on Tuesday to the police, who sent officers to scour the area, the official said. The police found 13 of the detained Sunnis in nearby homes, he added.
The incident underscored the increasingly sectarian nature of the violence taking place throughout the country.
Officials in Babil Province, south of Baghdad, said on Tuesday that police officers from the town of Musayyib had found a mass grave in their area. In the grave were the corpses of 10 policemen and Iraqi Army officers, all blindfolded and with their hands tied.
Leaders of the main Shiite Arab and Kurdish political blocs have been saying it was crucial to bring the former governing Sunni Arabs into the political process in order to dampen the insurgency. In recent days, the leaders have been negotiating with Sunni Arab politicians over who should take the vice presidential slot that the parties have agreed should go to a Sunni.
On Tuesday evening, three Sunni groups each presented a list of three candidates to the Shiite and Kurdish blocs, and the one name that appeared on all the lists was that of Yawar, Shahristani said.