Iraqis bicker over control of armed forces

Factions seek agreement on Cabinet choices


BAGHDAD -- Political factions squabbled over control of Iraq's armed forces yesterday as security woes continued. At least one U.S. soldier and 15 Iraqis were reported killed in shootings and bombings around the country.

Iraq's elected lawmakers, deep in discussions over the formation of a government, remain mired in talks over the appointments of ministers of interior and defense. Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki, a former Shiite political activist, has less than two weeks to name a Cabinet that meets the approval of a majority of the 275 members of parliament.

Leaders of Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish and secular political coalitions face often-competing pressure to appoint competent leaders and to satisfy loyalists seeking power and patronage. U.S. officials worry that security forces divided along sectarian lines could reinforce the country's drift toward civil war.

Officials said negotiations over the control of the key ministries had reached a critical point, with a Shiite favored to keep the interior post and a Sunni favored to take over defense if nominees can be found who are relatively free of sectarian or political affiliations.

"There is some type of agreement between the blocs about the type of personalities that should run Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense," said Rafi Azzawi, a Sunni negotiator. "Either both of them are independent or neither of them."

Those being considered for the interior post include former Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi and Qassem Dawoud, a moderate Shiite, said Baha Araji, a Shiite negotiator.

Araji said the Defense Ministry would go to a Sunni within the camp of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's secular coalition. Sunni leaders have demanded the post for a member of their bloc, threatening to quit the government if they don't get their way.

Posts are being doled out according to a complicated system that accords each coalition points based on the size of its parliamentary bloc, with the Sunni bloc granted 16 points and the Shiites 47.

Blocs can "spend" the points on posts. Prime minister and other leadership jobs are worth four to six points, key ministries such as oil and interior are worth three, and service ministries such as health and transportation are worth two, said Azzawi.

The complicated haggling is aimed at creating a government that can bolster public confidence and provide services to stem the slide into violence and despair.

The U.S. soldier was killed in southeast Baghdad late yesterday morning when his vehicle was struck by an improvised bomb, the military said. Iraqi police said four civilians were also injured in the explosion, which set a U.S. Humvee ablaze.

Cars bombs in northern, central and eastern Baghdad killed two Iraqi police officers and injured 16 others.

Gunmen killed two bus drivers in separate incidents, part of a spate of attacks on public transportation.

Authorities found the bodies of 10 civilians, blindfolded and shot execution-style, around Baghdad.

A car bomb targeting a passing U.S. military patrol in the southern city of Najaf caused no casualties but prompted a further tightening of security in the city.

The deputy governor of Nineveh province narrowly avoided an assassination attempt, the second attempt on his life in a week.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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