Iraqi talks deadlock as attacks kill at least 29

IRAQI politicians tried again yesterday to end a near three-month deadlock over forming a new transitional government, as the death toll from car bombings targeting police and civilians in Saddam Hussein’s hometown and Baghdad rose to 29.

Insurgents, launched two attacks aimed at Iraq’s oil industry in the north, setting fire to pumps near Kirkuk and opening fire on police guarding a convoy of tanker trucks, officials said.

A suicide car bomb exploded in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, wounding two civilians and slightly damaging a US Marine vehicle, the US military said.

On Sunday lawmakers loyal to prime minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari said that he was ready to announce a cabinet that would exclude his interim predecessor Ayad Allawi.

Mr Al-Jaafari had decided, some members of his political bloc said, to shun further attempts to include members of the party headed by Mr Allawi, the secular Shi’ite politician who was prime minister prior to elections January 30.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdish Democratic Party, to ask him to finish forming a government as soon as possible.

Ms Rice also met at the White House on Friday with Adil Abdul Mahdi, a senior Shi’ite politician who is slated to be one of Iraq’s new vice presidents.

President Jalal Talabani, who is Kurdish, told a Turkish newspaper Iraq’s Kurds won’t accept the establishment of an Islamic state but Iraq’s Islamic identity would be respected.

“We Kurds will never accept the formation of an Islamic regime in Iraq,” Mr Talabani was quoted as saying in Monday’s Sabah newspaper.

“Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Sunni, Shia, Muslims, Christians all live together and this structure would not allow an Islamic regime,” he said.

“All of us, including Islamic parties, want a democratic, federal, united and independent Iraq. We will never pass legislation that is contrary to Islam.”

On Sunday, an emboldened Iraqi insurgency bombed Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit and a Shi’ite area in Baghdad, killing and wounding dozens of Iraqi police and civilians.

A vehicle packed with explosives was driven into a crowd in front of a popular icecream shop in Baghdad’s western al-Shoulah neighbourhood also on Sunday, police Major Mousa Abdul Karim said. Minutes later a second suicide car bomber ploughed into the crowd. At least 23 people were killed and 41 wounded.

In Tikrit, two remotely detonated car bombs exploded in quick succession outside a police academy, killing at least six Iraqis and wounding 33, police and a hospital official said.

Meanwhile, Italy and the US have disagreed over the findings of an investigation into the accidental shooting death by US soldiers of an Italian intelligence agent in Baghdad, according to Italian news reports.

One report said Italian experts were refusing to sign off on US conclusions. The agent, Nicola Calipari, has been hailed as a national hero in Italy since he died on March 4 as he tried to shield a freed Italian hostage.

Without citing sources, Rome daily Il Messaggero said US conclusions “exculpate” the US soldiers.

Another Italian agent in the car, as well as the freed hostage, journalist Giuliana Sgrena, have insisted that the car wasn’t speeding and that the soldiers gave no warning.

Washington has insisted their rented Toyota Corolla was going too fast and that adequate warning was given to try to make the car stop.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a staunch US ally, faces strong popular opposition at home to his decision to send 3,000 troops to Iraq after the US-led invasion.

Pressure to pull out the troops mounted after Mr Calipari was killed.

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