Iraq parliament date set

Kurds and minority Sunni Arabs are pressing the dominant Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) to ditch Mr Jaafari as their price for joining a government of national unity.

M r Jaafari has been accused by critics of being too sectarian especially in relation to Iraq’s security forces.

After meeting the new premier of the northern Kurdish region Nichirvan Barzani, Mr Talabani said he would be summoning the leaders of parliamentary factions to inform them of the inaugural meeting of parliament to be held on March 12.

In-fighting

The opening of parliament has been delayed by bickering over the make-up of the new government and comes nearly three months after Iraq’s general elections.

The UIA failed to win an overall majority and needs the backing of other parties to form a government. The Bush administration has been pushing for it to be as inclusive as possible.

The Kurdish bloc, the most vocal opposing Mr Jaafari as Prime Minister, has held talks with prominent Shiite figures, including spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to explain its position.

Barhem Saleh, a Kurdish politician who serves as Iraq’s planning minister and was part of the delegation, said Ayatollah Sistani heard “our arguments and underlined the need for continuing dialogue with other Iraqi factions.”

Sistani aide Hamed al-Khafaf said the cleric had taken no position on
Mr Jaafari and instead urged Shiite politicians to settle the matter among themselves by vote.

The alliance, which controls 128 of the 275 seats in parliament, last month re-selected Mr Jaafari for the premierhsip by just one vote over vice president Adel Abdel Mahdi.

The Kurdish bloc, which has 53 seats in the new parliament, the Sunni National Concord Front which has 44, and the secular list of former premier Iyad Allawi which controls 25, have threatened to mount an open challenge to the Shiite alliance in parliament.

General shot

Meanwhile rebels have killed at least 19 people in the latest violence, including an Iraqi general shot dead in Baghdad.

He is the most senior officer to be killed since Iraq’s armed forces were reconstituted after Saddam Hussein’s overthrow.

Major General Mobder Hatem Khedaya, commander of the 6th Iraqi army division, responsible for part of Baghdad, was shot by a single bullet through the head whilst driving in the western part of the capital.

Seven other people were killed when a car bomb exploded in a market in the centre of Baquba, northeast of Baghdad.

The US military also announced the death of a soldier in a rebel attack west of Baghdad while three Shiites employed in a restaurant in the Sunni rebel bastion of Hawija, in northern Iraq, were killed by unidentfied gunmen.


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