BAGHDAD, Iraq – Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki once again failed to reach agreement Sunday on naming a new defense and interior minister as parliament reconvened after a four-day break.
Naming strong but neutral ministers is considered crucial for any plan to restore security and stability to strife-torn Iraq.
Rampant violence claimed three lives and injured 21 people just after dawn when a pair of bombs ripped through central Baghdad. The bombs, designed to kill the maximum number of people, were planted next to each other and were detonated in succession in Baghdad's Tahariyat Square, police 1st Lt. Thaeir Mahmoud said. Many of the injured were gawkers who had rushed to the scene of the fist explosion.
The head of the provincial council in Diyala, a mixed but tense province north of Baghdad, escaped an assassination attempt that killed one of his bodyguards and injured six others. Ibrahim Bajlan was uninjured when a car bomb detonated next to his convoy in the Imam Weis area, 44 miles north of the provincial capital Baqouba.
The fresh violence came amid rising fears in the Iraqi capital that extremists seeking to force Baghdad residents to follow strict Islamic practices were now targeting men in shorts, liquor stores and even barbers. Gunmen in recent months have even killed people drinking beer along the banks of the Tigris river.
Last week, gunmen in Baghdad stopped a car carrying a Sunni Arab tennis coach and two of his Shiite players, asked them to step out and then shot them.
Extremists have been distributing leaflets warning people in the mostly Sunni neighborhoods of Saidiyah and Ghazaliyah not to wear shorts, police said.
The U.S. military has said the bodies regularly turn up of people killed in sectarian attacks, by death squads and criminal violence — including 33 last week in Baghdad province. U.S. military officials consider it one of their biggest problems in the Baghdad area.
An Iraqi tennis coach and two of his players were shot to death last week in Baghdad because they were wearing shorts.
There was no word on the fate of the two missing crew members of a U.S. Marine AH-1 Cobra helicopter which crashed Saturday in volatile western Anbar province. Hostile fire was not suspected as the cause of the crash, the U.S. military said.
Iraq's fractious political, ethnic and sectarian parties again failed to reach agreement on who will run the interior and defense ministries, despite a promise by al-Maliki to do so within a few days of his Cabinet being sworn in just over a week ago.
"The will not be named today," Shiite deputy Baha al-Araji said. "We hope within three days."
There had been hopes that al-Maliki would swear in the two new ministers when the 275-member parliament convened Sunday after the Iraq weekend.
The Shiite-dominated interior ministry has been promised to that community, while Sunni Arabs are to get the defense ministry. It is hoped the balance will enable al-Maliki to move ahead with a plan to take over security around Iraq over the next 18 months and also attract army recruits among Sunni Arabs, who make up the core of the insurgency .
The list however, has been whittled down to two candidates for the interior ministry and three for defense.
During what appeared to be a stormy closed-door session, deputies argued over a demand by the Shiite and Kurdish coalitions to curb the power of Sunni Arab parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani. They demand that he be obliged by parliamentary regulation to consult his Shiite and Kurdish deputy speakers before taking any decisions.
The demand, staunchly opposed by Sunnis, was an indication the struggle for more power and authorities among Iraq's factions. The speaker has little authority.
"We have not reached agreement," said Salim Abdullah, a deputy with the main Sunni Arab Accordance Front said before the start of a second closed-door session.
Iraq's Foreign Ministry said Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki delivered a list of charges against Saddam Hussein. It provided no details, including when the charges would be submitted, but Iran has in the past said it wants to put Saddam on trial for crimes from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, including the alleged use of chemical weapons.
The trial of Saddam and seven co-defendants was to resume Monday on charges they ordered the killing of 148 Shiites for allegedly taking part in a botched 1982 assassination attempt against the former Iraqi leader.