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Iraq Mosque Blast Kills At Least 22; Action Urged on Government

Four more American soldiers were killed in Iraq, the U.S. military said as the U.S. death toll for the month surpassed the total for all of March. More than 40 Iraqis also died, including at least 22 in a car bombing near a Shiite mosque northeast of Baghdad.

Meanwhile Wednesday, key Shiite politicians cast doubt on a plan to convene parliament next week, saying they still have not decided whether to replace their candidate for prime minister to break a deadlock over forming a new government.

Parliament Speaker Adnan Pachachi, a Sunni Arab, said at a nationally televised press conference that he would call parliament into session Monday to push forward efforts to form a new government, which have been snarled for weeks over who will serve as prime minister.

"It is my duty to the Iraqi people in order to preserve the credibility of the democratic process," Pachachi said.

Iraqi voters chose the 275-member assembly Dec. 15, but the legislature met briefly only once last month because the country's ethnically and religiously based parties have not agreed on a new government of national unity.

Talks stalled after Sunnis and Kurds refused to accept the Shiite nominee, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to head the new government, which must be approved by parliament.

The Shiite alliance of seven parties has the biggest bloc of members in the assembly, but needs support from other factions to install a government.

Shiite officials have been discussing what to do for weeks but cannot decide.

Pachachi said Shiite politicians told him they hoped to have the break the deadlock in time for Monday's session.

"There are indications that cause us to be optimistic that an agreement will be reached on all the sticking points regarding forming a national unity government," the former foreign minister said.

But key Shiite leaders said a session was unlikely until they decided who gets top posts, including prime minister.

"Things don't look good right now," said Ridha Jawad Taqi, a leading figure in the biggest Shiite party. "We cannot go to parliament if there's no agreement" on key posts, including the presidency.

Shiites get to nominate the prime minister because they are the largest bloc, but the presidency, parliament speaker and some Cabinet posts are to go to different religious and ethnic groups.

"If we haven't reached an agreement, what will we do in this session?" asked Haidar al-Obaidi, a senior official in al-Jaafari's Dawa party.

Another Shiite lawmaker, Khaled al-Attiyah, said that Pachachi was simply trying to pressure the Shiites to resolve the al-Jaafari issue.

Iraqis are growing frustrated over the lack of progress on a government. An editorial cartoon Wednesday in the newspaper Al-Sabah al-Jedid depicted an enormous turtle struggling to move with a group of politicians on its shell. "Expediting the political process," the caption read.

U.S. officials have been urging the Iraqis to speed up talks on the new government to confront the violence sweeping the country. Tensions between Shiites and Sunni Arabs have risen since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra triggered a wave of reprisal attacks.

Wednesday's car bomb exploded as worshippers were leaving a Shiite mosque in the village of Huweder northeast of Baghdad. The blast killed at least 22 people and injured about 60, police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said.

Huweder, a village on the outskirts of Baqouba, was the scene of a truck bombing Oct. 30 that killed 30 people. The village is in a religiously mixed area where Sunni-Shiite tensions are high.

Casualties among U.S. forces have risen in recent weeks. In March, 31 U.S. service members died in Iraq, the lowest monthly figure since February 2005, according to an Associated Press count. So far this month, the U.S. death toll stands at 35.

Three U.S. soldiers were killed Wednesday in roadside bombings — two south of Baghdad and a third on patrol east of the capital, the U.S. military said.

The military also reported that an American soldier from the 101st Airborne Division died Monday from a "non-battle injury" near Tal Afar in northern Iraq.

At least 2,362 U.S. personnel, including seven civilians working for the military, have died since the beginning of the war in 2003, according to AP's count.