BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi politicians set March 16 for the opening of the country's first democratically elected parliament in modern history as a deal hardened to name Jalal Talabani (search), a leader of the minority Kurds, to the presidency.
The more powerful prime minister's job will go to Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search), a deeply conservative Shiite who leads the Islamic Dawa party. His nomination, which the Kurds have agreed to, has been endorsed by the most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq — Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (search).
"This was one of our firm demands and we agreed on it previously. The agreement states that Jalal Talabani takes the presidential post and one of the United Iraqi Alliance members takes the prime minister's post," Talabani spokesman Azad Jundiyan told The Associated Press on Sunday.
He added, however, that the clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance also reached a preliminary agreement with the Kurds on their other conditions — including extending their territories to include Kirkuk.
Jundiyan said they wanted the deal on paper before going though with it, while alliance officials, including Ahmad Chalabi (search), said those negotiations were not over.
Baghdad's new Shiite governor, Ali Fadhil al-Imseer, took office Sunday to become the city's first democratically elected municipal official since the fall of Saddam Hussein (search). Provincial and municipal elections were held alongside national ones on Jan. 30.
In Mosul, 225 miles north of Baghdad, gunmen killed a prominent Sunni Arab politician. Hana Abdul Qader, a lawyer and former member of Mosul's previous city council, was shot while leaving her home, said Noor Al-Din Saied, spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic party in Mosul.
U.S. soldiers assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and Iraqi forces arrested more than 60 suspected insurgents in the city of Haswa, 31 miles south of Baghdad, on Saturday, the U.S. military said Sunday.
State-run Al-Iraqiya television also reported that Barham Saleh, a Kurd who is deputy prime minister for national security affairs, confirmed that the 275-seat National Assembly elected in January would convene March 16.
That is the anniversary of the 1988 Saddam-ordered chemical attack on the northern Kurdish town of Halabja, which killed 5,000 people. Saleh met with alliance leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim on Saturday when the alliance convened to discuss the issue.
"The United Iraqi Alliance proposed to convene on March 15, but we proposed the 16th, the anniversary of Halabja massacre when Saddam ordered his army in 1988 to kill Kurds with chemical weapons. On this day we want to denounce this massacre as we establish a new democratic parliament," Jundiyan said.
Al-Jaafari and the alliance agreed on Talabani's presidency during a March 3 meeting with Kurdish leaders in northern Irbil. Kurds had long wanted the job for Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
The alliance, which won 140 seats in the assembly, needs the 75 seats held by a Kurdish coalition to gain the two-thirds majority needed to elect a president and two vice presidents, the first step toward setting up a government under a prime minister.
Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who controls 40 seats in the assembly, also has been negotiating to keep his job.
Officials have said the post of speaker probably would go to a Sunni Arab — either interim President Ghazi al-Yawer or interim Minister of Industry Hajim al-Hassani.
A Sunni Arab speaker would go far toward appeasing the minority, which is believed to make up the core of the insurgency and, like the Kurds, represents 15-20 percent of Iraq's estimated 26 million people. But unlike the Kurds, Sunni Arabs largely stayed away from the election to protest the U.S. presence in the country.
Kurdish demands include an autonomous Kurdistan as part of federal Iraq and a share of region's oil revenues. They also want to maintain their peshmerga militia and want a bigger share of the national budget.
Their demand for a federal state, though, would require redrawing the Kurds' current autonomous state borders to include Kurdish areas — oil-rich Kirkuk among them — that were dominated by Saddam loyalists and Sunni Arabs.
"According to a primary agreement with Kurdistan Alliance slate, the United Iraqi Alliance agreed on the four demands of the Kurds and our representatives in Baghdad are meeting with United Iraqi Alliance officials to discuss these demands in details," Jundiyan said.
He added that the Kurds and the United Iraqi Alliance agreed March 16 to convene the National Assembly "and before that we are seeking to get an official guarantees about our demands."
Chalabi, whose own party is part of the alliance, said no deal had yet been made with the Kurds — especially concerning Kirkuk.
"There are no obstacles at all, there are friendly negotiations with the Kurds because we have been allies for a long time and have common understandings," Chalabi told the Al-Jazeera television network. "There are two authorized committees, one represents the United Iraqi Alliance and the second represents the Kurds, that are negotiating over these issues in Baghdad."