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Iraq party wrangle over govt jobs breaks into open

Written by: Staff

BAGHDAD, May 12 (Reuters) Backroom rows over key economic jobs in a new Iraqi government broke into the open today when a small Shi'ite party said it pulled out of negotiations altogether and accused the US ambassador of interfering.

With 10 days left of the month allowed to him to present a cabinet to parliament, Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki is facing major headaches from within his own camp as Shi'ite Islamist rivals battle for control of oil and other ministries.

The Fadhila, or Virtue, party, from the Alliance bloc that has a near-majority in parliament, announced it would sit out the coalition talks. But a senior party official later told Reuters that the decision was not final, and Fadhila was still hoping to secure key posts. It currently runs the oil ministry.

The Fadhila move may, however, indicate a greater chance Hussain al-Shahristani, favourite of other Alliance parties, will be named oil minister. A nuclear physicist tortured and jailed by Saddam Hussein, he is a prominent Islamist politician.

Maliki, whose nomination in April ended months of paralysis accompanied by a sharp increase in sectarian violence, said on Tuesday he hoped to complete a line-up this week. But he is also keen to pick carefully a team that can run Iraq for four years.

''He's taking his time to give a chance for more profound discussion,'' his aide Salah Abdul Jabar told Arabiya television.

Washington and Iraqi leaders hope that a grand coalition of majority Shi'ite Muslims, once dominant Sunni Arabs, and ethnic Kurds can stem sectarian and ethnic violence that has raised the prospect of all-out civil war.

President George W. Bush said he thought one of the top issues for Iraq's new unity government was to deal with militias, many of which are tied to political parties.

''Perhaps the main challenge is the militia that tend to take the law into their own hands,'' he said in Washington. ''And it's going to be up to the government to step up and take care of that militia so that the Iraqi people are confident in the security of their country.'' SUNNI CLERIC KILLED Amid scattered violence and a daily round of grisly scenes as victims of torture were found shot or decapitated around the country, a car bomb exploded outside a local office of Maliki's Dawa party in a Baghdad suburb. No one was hurt.

In the southern city of Basra, a gunman shot dead a senior Sunni cleric after he left his mosque following Friday prayers, a Sunni religious official said.

Khalil Jaber was at least the second prominent Sunni cleric assassinated in the mainly Shi'ite Muslim Basra region in as many days, Shaker Mahmoud of the Sunni Endowment said.

Four US Marines drowned when their tank fell from a bridge into a canal near Falluja in western Iraq on Thursday, the military said, taking the U.S. death toll to at least 2,436.

In Baghdad, Fadhila party spokesman Sabah al-Saadi told reporters: ''We will not return to the negotiating table and we have announced our final position.'' MORE REUTERS CH PM0018

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