Shi’ites, Kurds talks in bid to form government

IRAQ’S deputy president Rowsch Shways said talks on a new government between the main Shi’ite alliance and Kurds would continue after parliament meets for the first time on Wednesday.

Mr Shways said the two sides held some common positions but they were too few for agreement. He did not specify upon which points the sides had failed to reach a deal. Talks between the parties collapsed earlier, crushing hopes it would be in place before parliament, elected despite relentless violence, meets for the first time this week.

Officials from the Shi’ite alliance that won the most votes and the Kurdish bloc that came second said yesterday they had failed to agree on two sticky issues - distributing top cabinet posts and extending the Kurds’ autonomous region in the north.

Parliament is due to meet on Wednesday, more than six weeks after a landmark election that gave many in Iraq hope that a new authority would clamp down on suicide attacks, car bombs and execution-style killings by mainly Sunni Arab insurgents. In the northern Iraqi town of Sharqat, a suicide car bomb killed six Iraqi soldiers on Saturday, the Iraqi army said.

In Mosul, a US soldier was killed by small arms fire on Friday, the American military said, and a roadside bomb killed two US contractors south of Baghdad. Many Iraqis blame politicians, for whom they say they risked their lives to cast ballots in the January 30 election, for prolonging a political vacuum while violence spirals.

Ahmad Chalabi, a top member of the Shi’ite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, returned empty-handed on Saturday from a trip to Iraqi Kurdistan to save the proposed Kurdish-Shi’ite alliance which has the two-thirds majority needed to form the government.

“The meetings have collapsed. There was no deal,” an aide to Mr Chalabi said.

Kurdish politicians were defiant, rebuffing the Shi’ite alliance’s attempts to blame them for the deadlock.

“They want to lay the responsibility for the political equation solely on the Kurdish side,” deputy prime minister Barham Salih, a Kurd, told Al Arabiya television.

Meantime, the Association of Muslim Clerics, a leading Sunni group, has complained that US troops searched the home of its leader for the second time in a week. The counter-insurgency tactics have caused strains with some key allies.

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