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No sign Iraqi parliament to convene soon

Written by: Staff

Baghdad, March 06: There was still no sign today (Mar 06, 2006) that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was about to call for parliament to convene despite having announced two days ago that he would issue such a decree.

Nearly three months after a December election, Iraq's divided political leaders are still fighting over the crucial post of prime minister in the new government.

The impasse has delayed the formation of a unity coalition of Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds that Washington has promoted in the hope of fostering stability and allowing U S troops to begin withdrawing.

It has created political uncertainty as Iraqi and U S troops battle to curb violence that has killed well over 500 people since the February 22 bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, an attack that pushed the divided country towards civil war.

President Talabani, leading a group of Sunnis, Kurds and others opposing the nomination of Shi'ite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, sent an envoy yesterday to meet top Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to help break the impasse.

Sistani, a semi-recluse in the city of Najaf, is not directly involved in politics but has huge influence over the bulk of the country's 60 per cent Shi'ite majority.

Talabani, a Kurd, also met delegates from radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose support last month was crucial to Jaafari's surprise nomination by the Shi'ite bloc.

Under fire for security and economic problems since he became interim premier last year, Jaafari is battling to keep his job.

Relative calm

The streets of Baghdad were calm with residents going to work and school after enjoying a few days of relative peace in the Iraqi capital after the government announced a daytime curfew on Friday, the Muslim day of prayers.

But the peace is always deceptive.

Though there were few incidents yesterday, two cousins and the nephew of the secretary-general of the Muslim Clerics Association, the main Sunni religious body, were killed when gunmen ambushed their car in western Baghdad.

The U S military reiterated on the weekend that any plans to withdraw would depend on the situation on the ground in Iraq.

The military was responding to British newspaper reports on Sunday that it planned to pull its forces from Iraq early next year.

Britain's Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Mirror, sourcing the stories to senior British defence officials, said a plan for U S and British forces to withdraw in spring 2007 followed an acceptance by the two governments that the presence of foreign troops in Iraq was now the greatest obstacle to peace.

But General Peter Pace, chairman of the U S Joint Chiefs of Staff, denied the reports and said withdrawal of 133,000 U S troops would depend on the security situation in Iraq.

''We're going to do exactly what we said we were going to do, which is to make the assessment of the situation on the ground,'' Pace said in an interview on U S television.


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