Iraq Shelves Political Talks despite US Pressure

Talks on forming a national unity government were shelved despite stern warnings from US Secretary of State     Condoleezza Rice and her British counterpart Jack Straw who left     Iraq Monday after an unprecedented two-day visit.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani speaks to reporters after meeting new foreign ambassadors in Baghdad (AFP Photo)

The formation of the first permanent post-Saddam government has been delayed due to bitter wrangling over key ministerial posts and the premiership, with non-Shiite factions opposing the candidacy of incumbent prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari.

The political vacuum saw Rice and Straw earlier this week voice their frustration at the lack of political progress, although the two refrained from any direct reference as to who should lead the cabinet.

Splits have appeared in the dominant conservative Shiite grouping, the United Iraqi Alliance, over the key sticking point of whether Jaafari should lead the new government.

"The ball is in the court of the alliance who have to take a final decision on Jaafari," a lawmaker from one of the key partners in the alliance, Mohammed Ismail Khazali of the Fadhila party, told AFP.

"I call upon a parliament session to decide on this issue as the alliance has been unable to decide till now."

Though the reason for Tuesday's shelving of talks were not announced, sources closes to negotiations said the Shiite alliance was holding intense internal talks to decide on the issue of Jaafari.

It was also not clear whether the talks will commence again Wednesday.

Kurdish, secular and Sunni politicians from other blocs involved in government negotiations have indicated their dissatisfaction with Jaafari, blaming him for not being able to stem the violence or rein in sectarian tendencies of several ministers.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, has supported the anti-Jaafari campaign.

"Our attitude towards Jaafari does not reflect that we are against his Dawa party of the Shiite alliance," Talabani told reporters Tuesday.

Expressing optimism over the talks to form the national unity government, he said "all political blocs were keen for an early resolution and ready to make compromises."

He said the political deliberations will not take more than two weeks.

For the United States, a national unity government is essential to their plans for an eventual withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Meanwhile, a court in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region sentenced to death 12 members of militant group Ansar al-Islam for numerous killings and explosions, an Arbil judiciary official said

In another key development,  Saddam Hussein was charged for genocide for the first time over his Anfal military campaign against Kurds from 1987-1988 that left around 180,000 people dead.

Source: AFP

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