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Iraq president presses Jaafari, violence kills 9

Written by: Staff

BAGHDAD, March 4 (Reuters) Iraq's President Jalal Talabani said today that the nomination of Shi'ite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari for a second term was an obstacle to forming a government of national unity.

As mortar fire and a car bomb killed nine people in two separate attacks in an area southeast of Baghdad torn by sectarian violence, Talabani also called for militias to join the US-backed political process and said he would issue a Presidential decree to convene Parliament.

''Opposing Jaafari's nomination is not a personal issue,'' said Talabani, a Kurd. ''It is in the interest of forming a Government of national unity.'' The ruling Shi'ite Alliance is facing mounting pressure from would-be partners to ditch Jaafari who, critics say, has failed to staunch sectarian violence that has pushed Iraq toward the brink of civil war.

The stalemate has complicated efforts to form a unity Government of Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds that Washington sees as its best hope to stabilise Iraq and allow it to draw down troops.

''The United Alliance has the right to nominate the Prime Minister but parliament has to approve it,'' said Talabani.

As the largest block in Parliament, the Alliance has the right to choose the Prime Minister, who must be ratified by a two thirds majority in Parliament.

The President said he will call parliament to convene -- expected around March 12 -- but few expect the formation of a Government. At best, a speaker will be elected to chair the assembly for four years.

After an ill-tempered meeting on Thursday of Jaafari's Alliance bloc, political sources said some rival Shi'ite factions were considering rerunning an internal ballot, which Jaafari won last month by a single vote.

The minority Sunni bloc, which took part in the December elections for the first time, also want Jaafari out.

''We have reservations on Jaafari as Prime Minister,'' Sunni Accordance Front spokesman Zafir al-Ani said this week, adding the Front had asked Alliance leaders to reconsider.

CURFEW ENDS Life in Baghdad returned to relative weekend normalcy after a daytime curfew that banned vehicle traffic yesterday was lifted. But outside the capital, violence raged.

A mortar round landed in a crowded market near a bus station and killed seven people and wounded 20 in the town of Gisr Diyala near Salman Pak, police said.

A car bomb near a police checkpoint in Salman Pak killed two civilians and wounded three police officers.

Urging militants to lay down weapons, Talabani said: ''Fighting coalition forces is not in the interests of Iraq.'' Gen. John Abizaid, the Central Command chief who oversees military operations in the West Asia also made an appeal for national unity during a visit to Baghdad.

''The situation in Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqi people,'' said Abizaid, who met Jaafari and Talabani. ''The government of national unity must be formed to bring the country together.'' REUTERS PG PM1911

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