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.
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
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
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
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
"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.