Iraq lawmakers debate rules

Parliament making little progress as violence rages across the nation


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- One lawmaker found the syntax of the new bylaws wanting. Another insisted yesterday that the ground rules being written for Iraq's elected officials must dub them "representatives," not merely "members" of parliament. Why, asked a third new legislator, didn't their proposed bylaws make it clear that they held supreme authority over government spending as well?

A half-hour debate sputtered along without a vote or clear direction. One article nearly completed, 151 to go. At this pace, a lawmaker said, it would take two months for the fledgling Iraqi parliament just to write the rules for its internal operations.

That might be viewed as dithering even in a stable nation, much less in Iraq, where violence surged again yesterday and where political observers are growing restive about the slow progress toward forming a coalition government.

"I feel defeated," said Ismael Zayer, editor of the daily newspaper Sabah Jadeed, after watching on television as legislators made no apparent progress. "I lost 25 years of my life fighting for democracy and being in prison and being away from my kids. And everything was for nothing."

Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki has a May 22 deadline to pick a Cabinet. He had hoped that task would be over by now, with parliament members spending yesterday reviewing his choices.

Instead, a settlement has been evasive because of bickering between Shiite Muslims, Sunni Arabs and ethnic Kurds, as well as infighting within each of the groups. Al-Maliki is reported to be considering the possibility of naming his government without including choices for the critical ministries that control the army, police and foreign service. Those posts would be filled later.

The Bush administration and some leaders here have high hopes that they can reduce the bloodshed once a permanent government is in place. But yesterday, lawmakers were left to argue over rules of order and how to conduct their debate, as speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani urged them to move more quickly.

"You're killing us. You're killing us," al-Mashhadani said to one lawmaker. "Do you know how many times you have asked to talk today?"

Several lawmakers said they were trying to be meticulous about rules the assembly will have to live with. They agreed to take two more days to consider the bylaws and to deliver suggested improvements to a committee assigned to draw up the rules.

The assembly's business is viewed as urgent from the White House to the streets of Baghdad, where observers are hoping a new government can begin to stabilize security. For now, sectarian killings and attacks on foreign forces continue unabated.

At least two Iraqis died when a pair of suicide bombers drove into a parking lot near Baghdad airport, where civilians and a convoy of Iraqi police had gathered. At least 16 others were injured in the attack. The U.S. military initially reported that 14 people had died.

Ten Iraqis, including three policemen, were killed and several were wounded in two other bomb attacks in the capital.

Two American soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in east Baghdad last night, and two British soldiers died earlier in the day in a similar attack in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city.

Another roadside bomb targeted a convoy in Adhaim, 40 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing two bodyguards of Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who was not present when the attack occurred. In Mosul, a car bomb targeting an American patrol instead killed two Iraqis and injured nine, authorities said.

The bodies of murder victims also continued to turn up. In the capital's Sadr City neighborhood, four corpses were found near a hospital. Authorities in the southern city of Karbala discovered five people who had been blindfolded and fatally shot.

James Rainey writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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