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 Kurd leaders say they're near Shiite deal

 Source : AP
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Kurd leaders say they're near Shiite deal 14.3.2005
posted on 13.Mar.


BAGHDAD, Iraq - Kurdish leaders said they were near a final agreement Sunday with the majority Shiites to form a coalition government when Iraq's first democratically elected parliament in modern history convenes later this week.

Further talks are slated in Baghdad on Monday. The deal calls for Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader, to be named president. Conservative Islamic Dawa party leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari, of the Shiite majority, would become prime minister.

But as the country neared a political landmark many hoped would set the stage for an eventual U.S. withdrawal, two American security contractors were killed and a third was wounded in a roadside bombing south of Baghdad.

The three worked for Blackwater Security, a North Carolina-based firm that provides security for U.S. State Department officials and facilities in Iraq. They were attacked on the main road to Hillah, south of Baghdad, according to Bob Callahan, a U.S. Embassy spokesman.

In Mosul, 225 miles north of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi troops killed five insurgents in street fighting, the military said. Three other people, a woman and two children, were killed inadvertently when an American helicopter gunship fired at insurgents, according to Mosul's Al-Jumhuri Teaching Hospital.

The military said at least five Iraqis were wounded in the incident, which occurred when a patrolling helicopter was fired on by insurgents in four cars. The U.S. helicopter returned fire, destroying three of the cars, and U.S. officials said the incident was under investigation.

Also Sunday, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin reported new contact and information about the kidnapped French journalist Florence Aubenas and Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi, her Iraqi interpreter. Raffarin said the new contacts gave hope the Liberation newspaper reporter could be freed. Aubenas and her translator were kidnapped in Baghdad on Jan. 5.

Liberation director Serge July visited Baghdad's Um al-Qura mosque, which serves as headquarters of the Association of Muslim Scholars, an influential organization of Sunni clerics. Sunni Arabs make up the bulk of Iraq's insurgency.

In protest against insurgent violence, a small group of about 50 Shiites demonstrated outside Jordan's embassy after reports that the suicide bomber who killed 125 people in a Feb. 28 attack in Hillah was Jordanian. The protesters burned at least one Jordanian flag.

The political developments Sunday occurred outside the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, a Kurdish enclave, where leaders of the minority said they were working out final details on a coalition government in accordance with a deal reached earlier this month with the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance.

The two camps are to formalize their agreement Monday, two days before the National Assembly convenes for the first time since Jan. 30 elections.

"The basic Kurdish demands are not about the Kurds only but the whole of Iraq, we are working for an Iraqi process - a coalition government that respects the constitution," said Interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, a Kurd.

Interim Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, also a Kurd, said a Kurdish delegation was to meet with the alliance again on Monday before the deal is announced, emphasizing that a final agreement was close.

The Kurds won 75 seats in the 275-member National Assembly during Jan. 30 elections. The alliance won 140 seats and needs Kurdish support to assemble the two-thirds majority to elect a president, who will then give a mandate to the prime minister.

In other violence reported Sunday, a U.S. soldier was gunned down late the day before in an insurgent attack in Mosul.

The death brought to at least 1,514 the number U.S. military personnel lost since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Foreign contractors, too, are often targeted by anti-U.S. guerrillas. At least 232 American civilian security and reconstruction contractors were killed in Iraq up to the end of 2004, according to the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

The Blackwater employees killed Saturday were in the last vehicle in a four-vehicle convoy and were traveling to Hillah from Baghdad. The road crosses an area known as the "Triangle of Death" because of the frequency of insurgent attacks.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the contractors were assigned to protect American diplomats.

"We will always remember their courage, dedication, and ultimate sacrifice for their country in the name of freedom," he said.

Blackwater Security said it was withholding their names out of respect for their families.

In other violence, two Iraqis were killed and five injured in a roadside bombing intended for a U.S. convoy in southeast Baghdad on Sunday, said Dr. Ali Karim at Kindi hospital.

In Sharqat, 160 miles northwest of Baghdad, a suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle on Saturday outside the house of the town's chief of special police forces, said police Col. Jassim al-Jubouri. The chief was not harmed, but four people were killed and several others were injured.

AP Wire  


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