BAGHDAD, Iraq – Ukraine withdrew 150 servicemen from Iraq on Saturday, beginning a gradual pullout, as Shiite and Kurdish politicians refined plans to form a coalition government that officials said includes an agreement not to turn the country into an Islamic state.
In Mosul (search), gunmen killed three policemen and wounded a fourth at a funeral procession, the second time in as many days that mourners have been targeted in that northern city.
It was unclear if the mourners were Shiites (search), but the police officers were participating in a procession for a colleague's wife and two children who died in a roadside bomb attack a day earlier, policeman Ammar Hussein said.
Insurgents led by Sunni Arabs (search), a minority that was dominant under Saddam Hussein, are targeting Shiite funeral processions and ceremonies in an apparent campaign to spark a sectarian war.
On Friday, relatives gathered in small groups to bury 50 people killed a day earlier by a homicide bomber in Mosul. A mass funeral procession was canceled for fear of another attack.
The Ukrainian company that was based near Suwayrah, 25 miles south of Baghdad, left Iraq and was expected to return home by Tuesday, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said.
Earlier this month, President Viktor Yushchenko and top defense officials ordered a phased withdrawal of Ukraine's 1,650-strong contingent from the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Ukraine has lost 17 soldiers in Iraq and the deployment is deeply unpopular among people in the former Soviet republic.
Bulgarian military investigators, meanwhile, said U.S. troops who killed a Bulgarian soldier had opened fire without warning but did not did not "deliberately" kill Pvt. Gardi Gardev on March 4.
The shooting occurred on the same day U.S. forces killed an Italian intelligence agent and wounded an Italian journalist who had been held for a month as a hostage of insurgents, straining relations two of the Bush administration's rare European partners in Iraq.
The U.S. military also said a U.S. soldier was killed Friday during operations west of the Iraqi capital in the volatile Anbar province "in a non-hostile accident." The military said it was investigating the death but gave no other details.
As of Friday, at least 1,513 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
In political developments, the country's main Shiite and Kurdish coalitions were putting the finishing touches on an agreement they hope to sign on Monday forming a coalition government. Any U.S. exit strategy hinges on having a new government organize Iraq's army and police to take over responsibility for security.
A senior member of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, Ahmad Chalabi, traveled late Friday to Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad, for talks with Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader who is slated to become Iraq's next president.
The Kurds have agreed that conservative Islamic Dawa party leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari will be Iraq's prime minister.
"There is discussion and there is an agreement on the basic principles. But there is not final agreement on all the details. This visit was on invitation by Talabani to Chalabi. The atmosphere was positive," said alliance member Ali al-Faisal.
Kurds and alliance officials said both sides agreed that Iraq would not become an Islamic state, a desire also expressed by the country's most powerful Shiite cleric — Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party, said the Kurds would oppose any attempt to turn Iraq into an Islamic state.
"I think the Shiites well understand that implementing an Islamic government ... will bring a lot of problems," Barzani told Dubai's Al-Arabiya television. "We have an alliance with the Shiites. We were both oppressed, and we both struggled against the old regime, but if they insist on having a religious government we will oppose to them."
An alliance member, Ali al-Dabagh, said there were no plans to turn Iraq into a religious state or a secular one.
"We neither want to establish a religious nor a secular state in Iraq, we want a state that respects the identity of the Iraqi people and the identities of others" al-Dabagh said.
The Kurds won 75 seats in the 275-member National Assembly during Jan. 30 elections. The alliance won 140 seats and needs Kurdish support to assemble the two-thirds majority to elect a president, who will then give a mandate to the prime minister.
In other developments,
_ The U.S. military said it had launched an investigation into the "possible mistreatment" by soldiers of two Iraqi civilians detained by American troops last month. The civilians received minor injuries while being transported to a detention facility during an operation on Feb. 27, the military said. The six soldiers being investigated were serving under the command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
_ Insurgents blew up two oil pipelines, one near Samarra and the other in the area near Riyadh, a town close to Kirkuk.