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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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