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Iraqi Shiites Rally Against Jordan

More than 2,000 Shiites marched through the streets of Baghdad Friday to protest the alleged involvement of a Jordanian in Iraq's single deadliest suicide bombing — a Feb. 28 attack south of Baghdad that killed 125 people.

The protest came just two days after an influential Shiite leader claimed during Iraq's first National Assembly meeting that Jordan allegedly wasn't doing enough to prevent terrorists from slipping into Iraq.

In another development, Shiite and Kurdish negotiators reportedly have agreed that National Assembly should reconvene on March 26 to elect a president and his council, officials said Friday.

The protesters converged on the Jordanian Embassy after finishing Friday prayers at three Shiite mosques around Baghdad. They burned Israeli and Jordanian flags and shouted slogans against King Abdullah II.

In other developments:

  • An Iraqi-born Swede kidnapped in Iraq more than a month ago has been released, police said Thursday. The family of Minas Ibrahim al-Yousifi said he had been released but did not know whether a ransom was paid, said Linda Widmark, spokeswoman for Sweden's National Police.
  • Six U.S. soldiers were wounded in the northern city of Mosul when a convoy was attacked by a car bomber, Capt. Patricia Brewer said in Baghdad. A witness, Faisal Qasim, said the bombing was carried out by a suicide bomber who slammed his car into a convoy of seven armored vehicles, striking the fourth.
  • Gunmen on Thursday shot dead Abdul Rahman al-Samarie, the Sunni Imam of the Thaat Al-Nitaqeen mosque in eastern Baghdad, Col. Ahmed Aboud, chief of the New Baghdad police station said Friday. Al-Samarie was walking outside the mosque when gunmen in a vehicle opened fire.

    The Shiite anti-Jordanian protesters on Friday chanted: "Take your embassy away! We do not want to see you!" and "There's no God but God, Abdullah is the enemy of God!"

    Iraqi police and special forces gathered outside the embassy to prevent demonstrators from reaching the building. They dispersed peacefully.

    It was the largest anti-Jordanian demonstration in a week.

    Shiites have staged smaller protests in recent days after the Iraqi government on March 14 condemned celebrations allegedly held by the family of a Jordanian man, suspected of carrying out a terrorist attack that killed 125 people in the city of Hillah. Nearly all the victims were Shiite police and army recruits.

    The deal to reconvene the National Assembly was confirmed by both Shiite and Kurdish officials.

    "There is a preliminary agreement that the next National Assembly session is to be held on March 26 to choose the president, his two vice presidents, and the speaker," said Ali al-Faisal, an alliance deputy and member of the team negotiating with the Kurds.

    That date matches one given a day earlier by Azad Jundiyan, a spokesman for Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, who said the government will be named after Kurds celebrate Norwuz, their six-day new year holiday that ends March 26.

    Although Iraqis voted on Jan. 30 to elect 275 people to represent them in their first freely elected parliament in recent memory, the Kurds and Shiites that emerged as the country's main power brokers have been unable to form a coalition government.

    The interim constitution sets no time limit for forming a government after the National Assembly convenes. But once a president and vice presidents are elected, a prime minister must be chosen within two weeks.

    As part of a deal brokered by the alliance and a Kurdish coalition before the National Assembly convened for the first time on March 16 was to elect Talabani president and make conservative Islamic Dawa leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari prime minister. The deal to make Talabani president was also backed by Masoud Barzani, head of the Kurdish Democratic Party.

    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.

    "Talabani requested for extra time to hold talks with Barzani who is, according to Talabani, not satisfied with the agreements regarding the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk and the distribution of resources and the status of the peshmerga in the Iraqi army," al-Faisal said.

    Most of the disagreement has 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.

    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.