Sun, Jan 22, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Iraq gears up for coalition talks

TOUGH ROAD The ruling Shiites and their Kurdish allies appeared ready to start talks on forming a national unity government while violence continued to rock the country


Iraqi parties yesterday geared up for the start of tough negotiations on forming a national unity government after rebels launched a series of attacks to coincide with the release of election results.

Meanwhile, a kidnappers' deadline expired with no word on the fate of US reporter Jill Carroll, whose parents have appealed to captors to spare her life.

Political parties yesterday had 48 hours to appeal the results of the Dec. 15 elections after the electoral commission on Friday released final, but uncertified figures following a month-long investigation into allegations of fraud, which led to the cancellation of less than 1 percent of the ballots.

The elections were marked by voting along ethnic and sectarian lines, with the ruling Shiite religious-based United Iraqi Alliance, which includes Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari's Dawa Party and Abdel Aziz Hakim's Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, winning 128 of parliament's 275 seats.

The Kurdish Alliance came second with 53 seats, while a variety of Sunni Arab parties, who had only a handful of members of parliament in the outgoing assembly, more than tripled their representation to a total of 58 seats in the new parliament, to be known as the Council of Representatives.

The US, Britain and the UN all welcomed the results of the parliamentary elections.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack stressed that Washington wanted majority Shiites, Kurds, Sunni Arabs and others to "work together in cross-sectarian, cross-ethnic efforts to think about forming a government."

"The Iraqi people will be looking to them to form an effective, responsible government that responds to their needs and a government that is responsive to all Iraqis, regardless of ethnic group or religious group," he said.

The spokesman sought to play down deep divisions between Iraq's religious and ethnic communities, saying "identity politics" were the result of [former Iraqi president] Saddam Hussein's repressive rule.

"That's really a vestige of Saddam Hussein's era where he ruled by dividing and conquering," he said.

In Baghdad, it was expected that a number of parties, including some of the Sunni-based factions which had earlier complained of fraud, would appeal the election results to a judicial commission which will have two weeks to rule on the matter before final results are certified and parliament can meet.

But politicians were already gearing up for negotiations on forming a coalition government with the majority Shiites and their Kurdish allies most likely to be calling the shots.

Meanwhile, in the latest violence, five members of the Iraqi president's staff were wounded when a roadside bomb struck their motorcade north of Baghdad, police said yesterday, adding that President Jalal Talabani was not present.

Lieutenant Colonel Abbas Mohammed al-Bayati said the bomb went off as the convoy entered the town of Tuz Khurmatu, 70km south of the northern oil city of Kirkuk late on Friday. A presidential spokesman declined to comment.

Police said an adviser to Talabani was among the wounded, but the extent of his injuries was not known. The convoy had been heading to Baghdad from Kurdistan when it was attacked. Talabani is a Kurd.

Within minutes of the election results being released on Friday, rebels launched mortar attacks on two US bases in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, causing minor injuries among US soldiers.

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