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U.S. Avoids Political Fight Among Iraqis

Americans Resist Entreaties To Assist Deadlocked Assembly

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 31, 2005; Page A08

BAGHDAD, March 30 -- Some Iraqi political blocs are asking the country's American power brokers to intervene as the country's first attempt at democratic government remains mired in private deal-making and public shouting matches, U.S. and Iraqi officials said this week.

One American official said Wednesday that the United States was limiting its assistance to advice -- currently, snap out of it.


Ayad Allawi got no help from U.S., his longtime backer.

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U.S. authorities' message to Iraqi politicians is that "it is important that they maintain the momentum of the elections,'' the official said one day after a chaotic session of the two-month-old National Assembly showed lawmakers were still far from forming a government.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Americans were telling deadlocked faction leaders that "this is not the time to slow down. The best way to undercut the insurgency and [build] credibility in the streets is to maintain momentum.''

Coalitions of Shiite Muslims and ethnic Kurds were the two top vote-getters in Iraq's Jan. 30 elections but have been unable to agree on who should fill key posts and what policies to pursue. As a result, the assembly is far behind schedule on one of its primary tasks: writing a new constitution by mid-August that would then be put to a national vote.

The leading coalitions' attempt to fill at least one position in an intended national unity government Tuesday failed when their choice for assembly speaker, interim President Ghazi Yawar, a Sunni Muslim, unexpectedly withdrew from consideration.

After Tuesday's National Assembly session, the U.S. official said, "I have had more than a few Iraqis come . . . saying, 'You need to weigh in on this.' "

"We are encouraging them to talk,'' he added. "We are not suggesting numbers or parties or lists. That is absolutely not our job.''

A variety of Iraqi politicians involved in the government-building talks said this week that they had detected no active U.S. role, which all sides say would undermine support from a public greatly resentful of the two-year-old U.S. military occupation.

"They are very careful not to interfere this time,'' said the interim industry minister, Hachim Hasani, a Sunni widely seen as the leading candidate for the powerful post of defense minister.

"People will lose their trust in the National Assembly if there is any interference. There would be talk for the next year about how the Americans appointed'' the cabinet, Hasani said.

U.S. officials say they are heeding a strict no-interference policy laid down by President Bush for the January elections and their aftermath. Hamoudi, however, said many U.S. interests are effectively being represented by the Kurds. Overwhelmingly Sunni but largely secular, the Kurds share the Bush administration's desire to limit the influence of fervently religious Shiites on the new government, Hamoudi said.

The Iraqi politicians' struggles could be the best evidence that the more experienced Americans are staying out of things, said the U.N. special envoy to Iraq, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi.

"The fact that it's taking some time is consistent with the fact that" the United States "has stayed out of the process,'' Qazi said.

Attacks by insurgents continued Wednesday. Six Iraqis were killed by a rocket-propelled grenade fired at an American convoy in the northern city of Mosul, said Ahmed Talib, an emergency room doctor. And in the western town of Fallujah, a land mine killed a U.S. Marine, the military said.

Al-Jazeera satellite television network aired a tape Wednesday that purported to show three Romanian journalists kidnapped in Iraq and a fourth unidentified person, apparently an American. The network reported that the four were held by an unnamed militant group and no demands were made.

In Washington, the State Department said that a U.S. citizen was taken hostage with the three Romanians. Romania's Realitatea TV reported that an Iraqi American who worked as an interpreter for the journalists was the fourth person kidnapped.

Correspondent Caryle Murphy and special correspondent Dlovan Barwari in Mosul contributed to this report.


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