By SAMEER N. YACOUB
Associated Press Writer
5:32 AM PDT, April 12, 2006
BAGHDAD, Iraq — The acting parliament speaker said Wednesday he will convene the Iraqi legislature next week to push forward the formation of a new government stalled over the issue of who will serve as prime minister. Meanwhile, a series of car bombs in three Iraqi cities left at least eight people dead and dozens wounded.
Adnan Pachachi, a Sunni Arab, told a news conference he decided to convene the assembly Monday because "it's my duty to the Iraqi people in order to preserve the credibility of the democratic process."
Pachachi added that Shiite politicians told him they hope to have the deadlock over the nomination of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari resolved in time for the session.
Parliament was elected Dec. 15 but has held only one session because of the dispute over the prime minister.
As the biggest bloc in parliament, the Shiites have the right to nominate the head of government. But Sunni and Kurdish parties oppose the Shiite choice of al-Jaafari for another term and the Shiites have not agreed whether to replace him.
That has stalled formation of a unity government which the United States believes is necessary to halt the country's slide toward anarchy.
But Pachachi, a former foreign minister, said he was hopeful for a breakthrough on the issue.
"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," he said.
Under the constitution, parliament must elect a national president, who in turn designates the nominee of the biggest bloc to form a new government. The prime minister-designate then has 30 days to name a Cabinet, which must be approved by parliament.
The Shiites hold 130 of the 275 seats, not enough to govern or win approval for their nominee without the support of other parties, including the Sunnis and Kurds. Shiite politicians conferred again Wednesday over the al-Jaafari issue.
"The consultations have come a long way and there are reasons for us to believe that from now until April 17, some of the problems could be resolved," Pachachi said. "The important thing is that the Iraqi people want to see the parliament and the democratic political institutions start their work."
Rising sectarian tensions have emerged as a significant threat to U.S. efforts to form a stable society in Iraq. Those tensions escalated dramatically after the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.
That triggered a wave of reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques and clerics -- many of them believed carried out by Shiite militias or death squads operating inside the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry -- and drove the country to the brink of civil war. Hundreds of Shiites have also been killed in attacks since the shrine bombing.
In an interview with the BBC, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said the death squads operating in the country were not linked to the government but to private security forces. Jabr said security agencies protecting ministries and private companies employ about 180,000 people in Iraq.
Many of them, "are uniformed like the police, their cars like the police," he said.
In the latest violence, a suicide attacker drove up to a busy vegetable market in the ancient city of Tel Afar and detonated his explosives, killing at least three shoppers and wounding seven, police Brig. Abdul-Hamid Khalaf said.
Tal Afar, about 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, has been singled out by President Bush as a success story for American and Iraqi forces in the drive to quell the insurgency.
A parked car bomb exploded near a medical facility in the city of Khalis north of Baghdad, killing two bystanders and wounding at least 23, police said.
A third car bomb exploded in Baghdad, targeting a police patrol in the northern district of Wazziriyah. The blast killed one policeman and two civilians, and wounded four others, police said.
Two U.S. soldiers were also killed when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb south of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. No details on the location were provided, and names were being held pending notification of kin.
With the latest deaths Wednesday, at least 33 American troops have died in Iraq so far this month -- exceeding the 31 killed in all of March, according to an Associated Press count.
At least 2,361 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the war in 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians.
Also in Baghdad, gunmen hunted down three different government employees and shot them dead on their way to work.
An internal affairs officer at the Interior Ministry was killed by men in two cars while leaving his house in western Baghdad, and a Housing Ministry employee was killed as he drove to work in the same neighborhood, police said. In northern Baghdad, gunmen shot down an Oil Ministry worker at a bus stop, police said.
The motives of the targeted attacks were not known, police said.
Associated Press Writer Bushra Juhi contributed to this report.
By SAMEER N. YACOUB