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Kidnapped brother of Iraqi Sunni leader killed

By Staff
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BAGHDAD, Apr 17 (Reuters) Gunmen killed the brother of a top Iraqi Sunni politician, officials said today, the second killing in less than a week of a relative of a Sunni leader as deadlock over a unity government showed no sign of ending.

One day after today's parliamentary session was delayed to give bickering politicians more time to form a government aimed at averting civil war, the body of Saleh al-Mutlak's brother was identified in a Baghdad morgue.

Saleh al-Mutlak, a wealthy businessman with links to former Baathists close to the insurgency, heads an Arab nationalist list which has 11 seats in parliament.

His brother, who was kidnapped three weeks ago, had bullet holes in his head, Interior Ministry sources said.

The discovery, days after gunmen shot dead the brother of leading Sunni politician Tareq al-Hashemi on Thursday, threatens to raise sectarian tensions between Iraq's majority Shi'ite community and minority Sunni Arabs.

The bodies of 12 shooting victims, some of them tortured, were found in different areas of Baghdad today, Interior Ministry sources said.

A wave of reprisal killings unleashed by the February bombing of a Shi'ite shrine has pushed Iraq towards the brink of civil war three years after US forces invaded.

After months of resisting Sunni and Kurdish opposition to Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari as its nominee for a second term, the ruling Shi'ite Alliance floated a new candidate during closed-doors talks yesterday to end the deadlock.

But today, a senior member of Jaafari's Dawa party said Jaafari was still officially the Alliance's nominee, suggesting the impasse over the premiership may be far from over.

''The Alliance is still holding Jaafari as it nominee for the prime minister's post,'' Jawad al-Maliki told state television.

Jaafari was nominated during an internal vote of Shi'ite legislators in February, but Sunnis, Kurds and even some Shi'ites are demanding a new candidate, saying the soft-spoken Islamist physician has failed to curb violence.

Acting speaker Adnan Pachachi, who yesterday postponed Monday's parliament session to give blocs more time to bury their differences, told Reuters on Monday he would convene the 275-seat assembly ''very soon, hopefully in the next few days''.

MORE REUTERS SI RN2002

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