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Iraq leaders to resume government talks Saturday

Written by: Staff

BAGHDAD, Mar 23 (Reuters) Iraqi leaders should resume high level talks to form a national unity government on Yesterday, more than three months after elections and amid increased violence and a worsening economy.

Iraqi political sources said it was unlikely the leaders would reach an agreement on key government jobs including the presidency, despite heavy pressure from Washington.

''The heads of political blocs will meet on Saturday to discuss the presidency, prime minister and speaker posts,'' said Abbas Bayati from the Shi'ite United Alliance.

''They will also discuss the programmes of the new government and a national security council,'' he said.

Some lower level talks could take place tomorrow.

The security council, which former prime minister Iyad Allawi is widely tipped to lead, reflects efforts to curb the power of Shi'ite Islamists. It would be made up of 19 members including president, prime minister, speaker and other leaders.

Iraqi leaders began intensive talks last week to solve a deadlock on who to lead the government. Parliament met for the first a week ago but took no action in the absence of a deal.

The Shi'ite Alliance had chosen in internal voting Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to run the government but Sunni Arabs and Kurds rejected him and called for him to step aside. But publicly the Shi'ite Alliance, which is in internal conflict, said it will resist any efforts to drop Jaafari.


Shi'ite sources said the row over Jaafari's nomination was in part a reflection of a battle in Iraq between Shi'ite Iran and Washington. The Iranians are insisting on Jaafari while the Americans want the Islamist Dawa party leader dropped.

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of Dawa's rival and the biggest party in the Alliance, SCIRI, called on Iran last week to open a dialogue with the United States on disputed issues with Washington over Iraq.

Washington and Tehran said they would have talks about the situation in Iraq.

''We want the Americans and Iranians to agree that they should not make Iraq their battlefield,'' said a senior Shi'ite source.

''This is how we will be fine, and only then we will describe their talks as successful.'' But it was not clear when and where the two sides will meet.

Shi'ite sources that they are at a point of finishing off an agreement on the logistics of a meeting.

''The American side had said that their negotiating team is ready, but it is still not clear if they are going to send someone from Washington,'' a senior Shi'ite source said.

''The Alliance was asked to prepare the logistics for the meeting. We are still waiting to hear from the Iranians, we are not sure who is going to take part from their side, maybe the foreign minister.'' U.S. officials in Baghdad said today there was no word on when or how talks would take place.

Reuters SY DB2115

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