Iraqi government talks reach an impasse - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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Iraqi government talks reach an impasse

Baghdad: Talks on forming Iraq's government were at an impasse Monday over Kurdish demands on the ethnically-divided city of Kirkuk and their peshmerga fighters, as violent attacks killed at least eight people.

With the historic first session of the country's new parliament just two days away, Kurdish chieftain Jalal Talabani said negotiations with Iraq's election-winning Shiite list had fallen into deadlock.

"There are disagreements about two points. The first is the fate of the peshmerga, and the second one is concerning Kirkuk. Our negotiations with the (Shiite) alliance continue," Talabani told reporters as he announced he was heading to Baghdad for Wednesday's session of the 275-member national assembly.

He added the Kurds wanted to seal an agreement with the Shiite list, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), and then bring other parties into the new government, including outgoing prime minister Iyad Allawi who has so far refused any post other than premier.

Negotiations were expected to resume Monday after the Kurds return to Baghdad, UIA members said.

Talabani, who is the frontrunner for Iraq's presidency, was speaking after Kurdish leaders said Sunday they were insisting on changes to a draft agreement setting out the terms for an alliance with the UIA, which has the largest share of seats in the new parliament with 146 members.

The Kurds, long oppressed by Iraq's Arab majority, want iron-clad commitments that their tens of thousands of peshmerga fighters will continue to provide security in the three Kurdish provinces of Arbil, Dahuk and Sulaimaniyah.

They want no other Iraqi force to be allowed to enter the virtual autonomous zone without the Kurdish regional government's permission.

The Kurds also want concrete pledges that the new government will resettle the tens of thousands of Kurds expelled from Kirkuk by Saddam Hussein over three decades and that it will work to restore territory to Kirkuk that Saddam apportioned to other provinces.

For their part, the Shiites, poised for their first real taste of political power, are eager to reach out to Iraqi Kurds, Sunnis, Christians and Turkmen as a means to stave off the threat of the country sliding into civil war.

The Shiites need the Kurds' 77 seats in parliament to muster the two-thirds majority required in the legislative body to elect a presidency council which in turn nominates the prime minister.

The plodding negotiations, six weeks after milestone national elections, have triggered a wave of criticism from Shiite religious leaders who have demanded the government be put in place to tackle the resistance behind daily attacks.

As the sides debated the shape of the next government, Shiite demonstrators burnt the Jordanian flag on top of the embassy in Baghdad in protest at the suspected involvement of a Jordanian man in the February 28 suicide bomb attack in Hilla, south of Baghdad, that killed 118 people.

But insurgents, made up of different elements of Iraq's Sunni minority, alienated by the rise of Shiites and Kurds in the post-Saddam era, carried out a fresh wave of attacks Sunday.

An Iraqi cameraman, Husam Hilal Sarsam, working for a Kurdish-language television station was gunned down in the northern city of Mosul, hospital sources said.

A pair of Iraqi farmers were killed and two others wounded when a car bomb targeting a US military convoy exploded in Rashid, 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

In the north, a truck driver in a Turkish convoy escorted by US troops was killed when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb near the village of Al-Hajaj around the refinery town of Baiji, 220 kilometres (140 miles) from Baghdad, Iraqi police said.

And in Baghdad, a bomb attack on the car of the director general of the Iraqi health ministry wounded four of his bodyguards Monday morning in eastern Baghdad, a medical source said.

In Mahmudiyah to the south, a local hospital received three bodies and a wounded man who later died. The men were attacked by gunmen while travelling on a road near Mahmudiyah, a hospital official said.

Meanwhile, Tareq Aziz, one of Saddam Hussein's jailed right-hand men who is being investigated for crimes against humanity, issued a handwritten plea asking the international community to ensure he receives a fair trial, his son told AFP.

"To the world public opinion: We hope that you will help us ... We need fair treatment, a fair investigation and finally, a fair trial. Please help us," reads the message, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

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