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Sunnis Drop Demand for Baathists in Cabinet

Sunni Muslim politicians dropped their demand Monday to include former members of Saddam Hussein's party in Iraq's new Cabinet in a bid to get more ministries. Iraq's Sunni minority is believed to be the backbone of the insurgency and many here blame the months-long impasse in forming a new government for a resurgence in violence.

As leaders of Iraq's main Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factors continued their backroom wheeling and dealing, Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search) again put off his long-promised Cabinet announcement.

The National Dialogue Council (search), a coalition of 10 different Sunni factions, initially requested 16 Cabinet seats. It submitted a list of candidates Sunday that includes former members of Saddam's Baath party, said Jawad al-Maliki, a senior member of al-Jaafari's United Iraqi Alliance (search). But when that was rejected, they dropped the demand, he told reporters.

Alliance members, who control 148 seats in the 275-member National Assembly, refuse to give any top posts to members of the party that carried out Saddam's brutal suppression of the majority Shiites and Kurds.

The issue is just one of many obstacles that have bogged down negotiations since Iraqis voted in Jan. 30 parliamentary elections. Most Sunnis stayed away from the vote, either in boycott or out of fear of attacks at the polls.

Al-Jaafari has also had to balance demands by his predecessor, Ayad Allawi (search), for at least four ministries for his party, including a senior government post, and a deputy premiership. Much of the discussion has focussed on the key defense ministry, which all agree should go to a Sunni, but which Allawi has argued should go to one from his Iraqi List party.

On Sunday, alliance lawmakers said al-Jaafari had decided to abandon attempts to include Allawi's party and offer Sunni representatives two more Cabinet seats, for a total of six.

Members of the Iraqi List, which controls 40 parliamentary seats, said the party had not been officially informed of the development.

"I don't see how it can be a national unity government without our participation," Iraqi List legislator Hussein al-Sadr told reporters Monday.

If Allawi's party is excluded, a spokesman for the Sunni coalition, Khalaf al-Aryan, said it would insist on at least seven ministries plus a deputy premiership. "If Allawi does take part, we'll negotiate and take less," he said.

Further complicating negotiations, a rival Sunni coalition entered the fray Monday, saying it too should have a place in Cabinet. The three-member Council of Arab and Sunni Negotiators and the National Dialogue Council both include groups that boycotted the elections and could help open talks with insurgents.

With attacks spiraling up in recent weeks, there has been intense pressure to end the political bickering and form a government that can take charge of efforts to suppress the violence.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) telephoned Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdish Democratic Party, on Sunday to ask him to finish forming a government as soon as possible, two State Department officials said Monday on condition of anonymity. Rice did not provide a formula of her own in the Friday phone call, one of the officials said.

Shiite lawmakers have accused some of their Kurdish allies of deliberately stalling negotiations in a bid to force out al-Jaafari, who automatically loses his position if he fails to form a government by May 7. Some Kurdish legislators want a more secular prime minister and one who favors a federal government that would give strong autonomy to Iraq's Kurdish north.

Rice also met at the White House Friday with Adil Abdul Mahdi, a senior Shiite politician who is slated to be one of Iraq's new vice presidents, one official said. Rice conveyed the message that the Bush administration wanted to see a government formed quickly.

Al-Jaafari could present his Cabinet to parliament as soon as Tuesday, some alliance members said. But such forecasts have repeatedly proven wrong.

While many argue the political vacuum has emboldened the insurgency, others say the ebb and flow of attacks has more to do with the security measures in effect. Attacks surged in the runnel to the Jan. 30 elections, but faded as new restrictions came into effect and extra forces appeared in the streets, said Diaa Rashwan, an expert on radical Islam at Egypt's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

Three roadside bombs aimed at U.S. military convoys exploded in the capital Monday, including one in western Baghdad that killed an American soldier, said Lt. Col. Clifford Kent, a spokesman for the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division.

At least 1,569 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

The U.S. military said a suicide car bomb exploded in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, on Monday, wounding two civilians and slightly damaging a U.S. Marine vehicle; and a 20-year-old Iraqi died at a U.S. military hospital of injuries he suffered two weeks ago while attacking coalition forces.

Militants also launched two separate attacks Monday aimed at Iraq's oil industry in the north, setting fire to pumps near Kirkuk and opening fire on police guarding a convoy of tanker trucks, officials said. Two policemen were wounded and three insurgents arrested in a one-hour gunbattle over the convoy, police said.

Elsewhere, Iraqi police discovered the bodies of three people — including one wearing an Iraqi Army uniform — in a river in the center of the country, the Polish military said Monday. The bodies were found late Sunday evening near Tahir, 25 miles east of Diwaniyah, Lt. Col. Zbigniew Staszkow said.