Iraqis Vow to Uphold Freedom, Democracy

Shiite and Kurdish officials reported progress Thursday in resolving disagreements over territorial issues and Cabinet posts, but said they may need another week to put together Iraq's coalition government.

In violence around Iraq, six U.S. soldiers were wounded in the northern city of Mosul (search) when a convoy was attacked by a car bomber, Capt. Patricia Brewer said in Baghdad. According to a witness, Faisal Qasim, the bombing was carried out by a homicide bomber who slammed his car into a convoy of seven armored vehicles, striking the fourth.

Nearly two months after they braved death to vote, many Iraqis are growing frustrated over the slow pace of the talks to form a new government.

"These negotiations included many things, not just the Kurdish issues, but also regarding the shape of the Iraqi government," said interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh (search), a Kurd.

The latest setback came after Kurdish politicians reportedly insisted on amending a deal they struck last week with the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance (search). They agreed, however, to go ahead with a ceremony Wednesday swearing in the 275-seat National Assembly elected Jan. 30.

But the deputies failed to set a date to reconvene, did not elect a speaker or nominate a president and vice president — all of which they had hoped to do their first day. Instead, the session was spent reveling in the seating of Iraq's first democratic legislature in a half century.

The failure to appoint top officials stemmed from the inability of Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs to agree on a speaker for the new legislature, disagreement over the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, and renewed haggling over Cabinet posts.

The interim constitution sets no time limit for forming a government after the National Assembly convenes.

"We will be seeing a government formed next week," predicted Haitham al-Husseiny, who heads the office of Shiite alliance leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, but he would not give a firm date.

Azad Jundiyan, a spokesman for Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (search), said he thought the government will be named after Kurds celebrate Norwuz, their new year, on March 26.

"This procrastination in forming the government frustrates us and does not make us optimistic," complained Qaiss Mosa of Baghdad, echoing frustration widely heard among people on the street. "Iraqis were hoping to see a national government."

Most of the disagreement focused on whether to allow the Kurds' peshmerga militia to remain in Kurdistan as part of the Iraqi police and army, along with setting a timetable for Kurds to assume control of Kirkuk and permit the speedy return of nearly 100,000 refugees — conditions included in an interim law that serves as a preliminary constitution.

"Negotiations were very constructive and the differences in the interim law and peshmerga were solved. We have agreed that some peshmerga will join the Kurdistan police and some will be part of the Iraqi army, with the same equipment and salaries and take orders from the defense ministry in Baghdad," said Jundiyan.

Kurds want the Shiite alliance to strictly follow Article 58 of the interim law, which sets out the procedure for extending Kurdish territories to include Kirkuk. The changes would then be embodied in a constitution to be drafted by the National Assembly by mid-August and put to voters two months later in a referendum.

The alliance agreed to start talks on Kirkuk immediately after the government is formed, but balked at keeping a strict timetable tied to the constitution.

"We need to establish a mechanism in which work can continue even after the writing of the constitution," said Abdul-Karim al-Anzi, one of the alliance's negotiators.

While in power, Saddam Hussein brutally expelled Kurds from the Kirkuk region and relocated Iraqi Arabs there in a bid to secure his control of the oil fields. Many of the Kurds who want to return to Kirkuk are now living in tent cities.

More than a dozen countries have pulled out or scaled back their troop presence in Iraq over the past year. On Thursday, Bulgarian Defense Minister Nikolai Svinarov said Bulgaria intends to reduce the number of its troops in July and bring home the last of the 460-member force by year's end.

Earlier this week, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi said he hoped to begin bringing home Italy's 3,000 troops in September if the security situation allowed.

But Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a surprise visit to Baghdad that his country would likely keep its 530 soldiers in Iraq until its nascent armed forces and police are capable of taking over security.

"It is more important to speak of the capability of the security forces than of timetables," Rasmussen said.