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Shiites Pick al-Maliki as Prime Minister Nomination

Shiite politicians agreed Friday to nominate Jawad al-Maliki as prime minister, replacing the incumbent in a bid to clear the way for a long-delayed new government.

Al-Maliki is a top ally of outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, whose nomination had sparked sharp opposition from Sunni Arab and Kurdish leaders and caused a four-month deadlock.

Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties later agreed on nominees to fill the other top government posts of government, Shiite lawmaker Ridha Jawad Taqi said. The quick agreement was an indication that the minority groups were ready to accept al-Maliki's nomination in what would be a breakthrough in efforts to form a national unity government.

Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, would remain as president for a second term, with Sunni Arab Tariq al-Hashimi and Shiite Adil Abdul-Mahdi holding the two vice president spots, he said.

Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni, would become parliament speaker with two deputies — Khalid al-Attiyah, a Shiite, and Aref Tayfour, a Kurd.

The nominees were to be presented to a session of parliament on Saturday, officials said.

Shiite spokesman Humam Hammoudi confirmed al-Maliki's nomination and said the Shiites have "a positive stance" toward Kurd and Sunni nominees for president and parliament speaker.

Leaders of the seven parties that make up the Shiite alliance agreed on al-Maliki's nomination in a meeting Friday evening, said Jalal Eddin al-Sagheer, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the largest party in the alliance.

Al-Maliki won the nomination with agreement from six of the parties, said another SCIRI official, Ridha Jawad Taqi. The seventh party, Fadhila, had presented its own candidate, but only five of seven parties were needed to win a "consensus" agreement on a nominee.

Some Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties already have indicated they will accept al-Maliki, after fiercely opposing a second term for al-Jaafari, who bowed out Thursday.

Al-Maliki is one of the top figures in al-Jaafari's Dawa party and has often appeared as his spokesman. Still, little is known about him since he fled Iraq in the 1980s, settling in Syria and working in Dawa's political office. He returned to Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

SCIRI and other parties in the alliance had initially expressed opposition to al-Maliki because of fears he would be unacceptable to Sunni Arabs.

Al-Maliki was a top official in the commission in charge of purging members of Saddam's ousted Baath Party from the military and government. Sunnis, who made up the backbone of the Baath Party, consider the commission a means of squeezing them out of influence in post-Saddam Iraq.

But the Dawa party warned of further problems within the alliance if al-Maliki were rejected after Dawa leader al-Jaafari was forced to give up the nomination.

Sunnis appeared willing to take al-Maliki.

"If anyone is nominated except al-Jaafari, we won't put any obstacles in his way. He will receive our support," Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the main Sunni Arab coalition in parliament, told The Associated Press.

Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker, said the Kurdish parties had no opposition to al-Maliki.

The Shiites are the biggest bloc in parliament but lack the strength to govern without Sunni and Kurdish partners. As the biggest bloc, the Shiites get first crack at the prime minister's job.

Al-Jaafari had held out for weeks against increasing pressure on him to step aside.

Sunni and Kurdish politicians blamed the rise of sectarian tensions on al-Jaafari for failing to rein in Shiite militias and Interior Ministry commandoes, accused by the Sunnis of harboring death squads. Those parties refused to join any government headed by al-Jaafari.

He stepped down after Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, sent word that he should go, according to some lawmakers.

U.S officials have insisting that the Iraqis step up efforts to form a new government after Dec. 15 elections to begin the task of confronting sectarian violence and the armed insurgency. The Bush administration hopes such a government will curb Iraq's slide toward anarchy and enable the U.S. to begin bringing home its 133,000 troops.

The military said a U.S. Marine assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7 died during combat Thursday in the volatile Anbar province west of Baghdad. The death raised to at least 2,382 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

In other violence, a suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle near an Iraqi police patrol Friday in Tal Afar, killing six people and wounding 11, police said. Two snipers who fired on police after the incident were arrested.