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 The new government may be announced on March 26 after Newroz

 Source : AP
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The new government may be announced on March 26 after Newroz 18.3.2005
AP - "Iraq's new legislators vow to uphold freedom and democracy amid explosions"


BAGHDAD (AP) - Kurdish and Shiite politicians said Thursday they made headway in solving new disagreements that cropped up in their deal to form a coalition government, nearly seven weeks after Iraqis took to the polls. It remained unclear, however, when a new government would be announced.

The talks came after Iraqi legislators were sworn in as members of the 275-seat National Assembly, vowing to uphold freedom and democracy two years after the fall of president Saddam Hussein.

Most of the disagreement focused on whether to allow the Kurdish peshmerga militia to remain in Kurdistan as part of the Iraqi security services and army, along with setting a timetable for the Kurds to assume control of oil-rich Kirkuk and allow the return of its nearly 100,000 refugees - conditions included in an interim law that serves as a preliminary constitution.

"Negotiations were very constructive and the differences in the interim law and peshmerga were solved. We have agreed that some peshmerga will join the Kurdistan police and some will be part of the Iraqi army, with the same equipment and salaries and take orders from the defence ministry in Baghdad," Azad Jundiyan, a spokesman for Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, told The Associated Press.

But he added that announcing a new government could come after Kurds celebrate their new year toward the end of next week.

"I think that the new government will be announced on March 26 after the end of Nowruz," he said.

There was no immediate comment on the date from Shiite politicians. The talks were held late Wednesday.

Earlier, a member of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance said that agreement had been found on issues such as the peshmerga and that more talks would be held.

"The army units in Kurdistan will be mixed and follow the orders of the central government. As for the police force they will be formed from the people of Kurdistan," Ali al-Dabagh said.

On Wednesday, the deputies failed to set a date to reconvene, did not elect a speaker or even nominate a president and vice-president - all of which they had hoped to do Wednesday. Instead, the session was spent celebrating the moment, and the enormous obstacles Iraq has overcome.

Absent from the assembly hall were large numbers of Sunni Arabs, thought to make up the core of the insurgency. Sunnis, who were favoured under Saddam's regime, mostly stayed away from the national elections - either to honour a boycott call or because of fears of being attacked at the polls by militants.

U.S. President George W. Bush called the session a "bright moment" for Iraq, but added there was no timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops. "We've always said this is a process, and today was a step in that process. It's a hopeful moment," Bush said in Washington.

Insurgents fired a mortar at a hotel housing western journalists in central Baghdad, but hotel employees said the round caused minor damage and no injuries.

Police near the southern city of Basra discovered the bodies of three men and one woman whose hands were bound and had been shot in the head. Danish troops blocked off the road around the area. The identities of the four was unclear.

The U.S. military announced it had rescued a hostage and detained two Iraqi men during a raid late Wednesday near Beiji, 250 kilometres north of Baghdad. The statement did not identify the hostage further, saying only that he had been a "kidnap victim."

In Kirkuk, gunmen late Wednesday shot dead a police brigadier who was head of the northern city's criminal investigations department, said Kirkuk police chief Maj.-Gen. Torhan Abdul Rahman.

Also Wednesday, a U.S. soldier died in a roadside bomb blast south of Baghdad, the military said, while a car bomb northeast of the capital killed four Iraqis and injured 15.

Meanwhile, outgoing U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte flew out of Iraq on Thursday after a nearly nine-month stint to return to the United States, the U.S. Embassy said, adding that charge d'affaires James Jeffrey will assume responsibility for the vacant post temporarily.

Negroponte had served as ambassador to Iraq since arriving here June 30, 2004, just hours after the handover of sovereignty to Iraq's government. His replacement has not been announced.

Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen travelled to Iraq on Thursday and met with political leaders, including al-Jaafari. It wasn't immediately known if he would travel to Basra, in southern Iraq, where Denmark has 501 troops stationed as part of the U.S.-led coalition.

While it was a historic day for Iraqi democracy, Wednesday also served as a reminder of a scarred past - the 17th anniversary of a chemical attack that Saddam ordered on the northern Kurdish town of Halabja.

"This day coincides with a painful memory that has many meanings. On this day in 1988, former regime planes bombed Halabja and martyred 5,000 people," said Fuad Masoum, a Kurdish delegate. "Today, on this occasion, we celebrate the inauguration of parliament after the fall of this regime."

Elected on Jan. 30, when insurgent attacks killed more than 40 people, the National Assembly ended its first session Wednesday with an oath to protect Iraq's "federal democratic system" and "public and private liberties."

Cleric Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the alliance, which holds the largest block of assembly seats, led a series of prayers thanking God for giving Iraqis the courage to cast aside their fear and vote.

The failure to appoint top officials stemmed from the inability of Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs to agree on a speaker for the new legislature, territorial disagreements, as well as renewed haggling over cabinet posts. Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi reportedly rejected an offer of the defence minister's job.

The interim constitution has no set time limit on forming the government after the National Assembly convenes. But once it elects a president with a two-thirds majority, a prime minister must be chosen within two weeks.

Talks among Shiites, Kurds - who are mostly Sunni Muslim but secular - and Sunni Arabs have also focused on a speaker, a high-profile position designed mainly to serve as moderator of parliamentary debate. Shiites and Kurds want a Sunni Arab for the post but have been unable choose which one.



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