Kurds, Shiites hit delay in talks on forming a coalition government

Meeting postponed ahead of Iraqi assembly debut

March 14, 2005|By Richard Boudreaux | Richard Boudreaux,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Talks between the Shiite and Kurdish blocs that won the most votes in Iraq's elections stalled yesterday, dimming their hopes of forming a new government before Wednesday's debut session of the National Assembly.

A scheduled meeting yesterday between the Shiite Muslim-dominated United Iraqi Alliance and a coalition of Kurdish parties was postponed when the Kurds delayed their reply to a proposed power-sharing deal. One Kurdish official said his bloc would seek to revise it and expand the negotiations to include other political parties.

Participants in the talks gave varying interpretations of the delay, with one usually optimistic Shiite aide saying the effort had "stumbled" over some of the most contentious issues facing Iraq. One Kurdish official said the negotiations "have hit a dead end," while another said a deal could be near.

Jawad Maliki, a leader of the Dawa Party in the Shiite bloc, said the talks could resume as early as today. He said the two blocs would continue their effort after the National Assembly convenes if there is still no agreement on the shape and mandate of a government to replace the U.S.-appointed interim Iraqi leadership.

Iraqis, who risked threatened violence to vote by the millions Jan. 30, have grown impatient with the political wrangling and more fearful for their lives as insurgents resisting the U.S. military occupation exploit a growing security vacuum. The insurgents killed at least 18 Iraqis, a U.S. soldier and two American security contractors in scattered weekend violence.

If the Shiite and Kurdish alliances can reach an agreement, they will have enough seats for the two-thirds vote in the assembly that is required to form Iraq's first democratically elected government. That government, led by a prime minister, would rule until the assembly rewrites the constitution and calls new elections as early as the fall.

The Shiite alliance won a bare majority of the legislature's 275 seats and has nominated Ibrahim Jafari, the Dawa Party leader, as prime minister. The Kurds, who would be the minority party in the government, want to put one of their leaders, Jalal Talabani, in the more ceremonial post of president and to control two of the five most powerful Cabinet ministries.

Negotiators for the two blocs last week produced a vaguely worded power-sharing accord that left key details unsettled and sent it to their leaders for review. But when Ahmad Chalabi, a member of the Shiite alliance, traveled Friday to hear the reaction of top Kurdish officials, he came away fearful that the talks were breaking down, an aide said.

Still unsettled, officials in both blocs say, are a precise division of Cabinet posts, the degree of autonomy for Iraq's three predominately Kurdish northern provinces, and the boundaries of the Kurdish region, home to 3 million of Iraq's 27 million people.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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