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Drawn-Out Talks on Assembly Upset Iraqis

Political Wrangling Stalls Formation Of New Government

By Salih Saif Aldin and John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page A18

TIKRIT, Iraq, March 5 -- Five weeks ago, Hasan Khatab Omar defied dire warnings and cast a ballot in Iraq's first free elections in almost half a century. Insurgents branded him a traitor and bombed his house, he said, and neighbors called him a government agent.

"We thought it would be for a noble cause," said Omar, 55, the owner of a small food shop in this predominantly Sunni city about 90 miles north of Baghdad. "Now we are weeks later, and what has changed? Nothing. I think I risked my life for nothing."

Iraq War Deaths

Total number of U.S. military deaths and names of the U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war as announced by the Pentagon recently:

1,495 Fatalities

In hostile actions: 1,142

In non-hostile actions: 353

Spec. Azhar Ali, 27, of Flushing, N.Y.

Spec. Wai P. Lwin, 27, of Queens, N.Y.

The two soldiers were assigned to Army National Guard 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, based in Manhattan, N.Y. They were killed March 2 in Baghdad.

Spec. Robert S. Pugh, 25, of Meridian, Miss.; Army National Guard 1st Battalion, 155th Infantry, based in McComb, Miss. Killed March 2 in Iskandariyah.

All troops were killed in action unless otherwise indicated.

Total fatalities include four civilian employees of the Defense Department.

A full list of casualties is available online at www.washingtonpost.com/nation

SOURCE: Defense Department's www.defenselink.mil/newsThe Washington Post

As negotiations over the formation of a new government drag on, many Iraqis who overcame fears of attacks at polling stations and threats of retaliation are beginning to wonder why the process is taking so long, and whether voting was worth the risk.

The opening of the new National Assembly has been delayed twice and is on hold while political leaders wrangle over issues such as how much autonomy Kurds will have in the northern part of the country, what role religion will have in the new government and which parties and people will get which cabinet posts.

Members of the United Iraqi Alliance on Saturday set a March 15 deadline to form a government, prodded to action by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who had demanded progress, the Associated Press reported.

Iraqis say they fear the delay is fueling the insurgency and hindering reconstruction efforts. Hundreds of people have been killed in almost daily attacks since the Jan. 30 elections.

"They turned their backs on the people because they're busy dividing shares in the government," said Yousif Mohammed Tahir, 30, an electrician in the northern city of Mosul. "The security situation is worse than before. They promised a better life, but they lied."

Two members of the United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shiite Muslim parties that captured a slim majority in the 275-member parliament, bolted from the alliance Friday, complaining about the lack of political progress. Their defection would decrease the number of seats the alliance controls from 140 to 138, leaving it with a one-seat majority.

"It's been a month since the Iraqis voted for us. They trusted us with their lives, but we haven't achieved any agreement yet," one of the lawmakers, Ali Yousha of the Unified National Coalition, said in a telephone interview.

"The other members of the assembly are still negotiating and dividing the government's posts," he said. "We are not interested in posts. We want to start resolving the problems of the people and writing the constitution."

Under Iraq's interim constitution, the assembly is supposed to draft a new constitution, submit it to a nationwide referendum by October and organize elections for a permanent government in December.

"We are sick and tired of all the statements, satellite shows and interviews, as we see the time passing without the government being formed, or the new assembly meeting," Jalal Edeen Sagheer, a senior Shiite cleric and newly elected member of parliament, said during his Friday sermon at the Buratha Mosque in Baghdad. "Not much time is left for writing the constitution."

But the formation of the government has become entangled in tough negotiations, principally between the United Iraqi Alliance and a coalition of Kurdish parties. The Kurds, who make up between 15 percent and 20 percent of the population, and the Shiites, who make up about 60 percent, have been natural allies because both were brutally oppressed by the Sunni minority that dominated the government under Saddam Hussein.

Among the key issues being discussed, officials familiar with the talks said, are how to divide oil revenues among the ethnically different regions of the country, how to improve the security situation, how to pull Iraq's minority Sunnis, many of whom did not vote, into the government and how to draft the constitution.

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