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Iraq's Shi'ite bloc to attend parliament on Monday

Written by: Staff
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BAGHDAD, Apr 13 (Reuters) Iraq's Shi'ite Alliance will attend Monday's session of parliament even if no agreement is reached before then on top posts in the new government, Shi'ite legislators and sources said today.

In a move that raises the chance that political paralysis may end, Shi'ite legislators said they have dropped a demand that a parliament speaker, the prime minister and the president are agreed on by all parties before the bloc goes to parliament.

''The Alliance has decided unanimously to take part in Monday's parliament session,'' Ridda Jawad Al-Takki, a senior member in the Alliance told Reuters.

Four months after December's legislative elections, Iraqi leaders are struggling to form a national unity government seen as the best hope to avert a slide towards sectarian civil war.

The Shi'ite Alliance, the largest bloc in parliament, is facing intense pressure from Sunnis and Kurds to drop its choice of Ibrahim al-Jaafari for prime minister.

The political vacuum, which has exposed Shi'ite divisions, is taking place against a backdrop of escalating bloodshed that Washington fears could push the country toward full-scale conflict and complicate a U S troop withdrawal.

In a bid to break the impasse by Monday, Takki said Alliance officials will hold ''extensive meetings'' with Sunni and Kurdish blocs to discuss the premiership and other key nominations.

The acting speaker of parliament announced yesterday that he would convene the legislature on Monday, and some politicians have suggested the 275-seat parliament should make a final decision on Jaafari's fate if the Alliance fails to do so.

DIVISIONS Political sources said the two rivals in the Alliance -- Jaafari's Dawa party and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) -- have been holding separate meetings since yesterday in hopes of reaching a deal.

The Alliance, which earned the constitutional right to nominate a prime minister, named Jaafari to a second term in February after an internal ballot in which Jaafari defeated SCIRI's candidate by a single vote.

Seeking the assistance of Iraq's Shi'ite clerical establishment to settle internal differences, the Alliance has sent a delegation to the shrine city of Najaf, home of the influential Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, sources said.

Replacing Jaafari could split the uneasy Shi'ite Alliance at a time when Iraq needs a united leadership to tackle insurgent violence and ease sectarian tensions.

In the latest in a wave of attacks against Iraq's Shi'ite majority, a car bomb killed 13 people near a market in a mostly Shi'ite district on the outskirts of Baghdad today.

The United States and Britain have been pressing Iraqi leaders to reach an agreement, fearful the widening vacuum emboldens insurgents trying to undermine the political process.

Before parliament can vote on a replacement for Jaafari, the speaker of the house and his two deputies must be elected, followed by a vote for a three-man presidential council, which then has to unanimously choose a prime minister.

The prime minister then has one month to name his cabinet and put it to parliament for approval.

REUTERS DKS BST2250

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