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Kurdish And Shiite Leaders Meet

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Kurdish leaders converged on Baghdad for last-minute talks Monday with majority Shiites as both sides pressed to secure a deal to form a coalition government before the newly elected parliament meets for the first time later this week.

Shiites and Kurds have been haggling over the makeup of the new government ever since the Jan. 30 ballot elected a new national assembly. Parliament meets Wednesday.

The political deal calls for Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader, to be named president. Conservative Islamic Dawa party leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the Shiite majority United Iraqi Alliance coalition, would become prime minister.

"We're not interested in the government posts, we're more interested in Kurdistan and Iraq's interests," Talabani told reporters in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad.

"We have made good progress. We have a common understanding with the United Iraqi Alliance that we should establish an Iraqi state based on the principles of federalism and respecting human and women's rights," Talabani said.

In other developments:

  • In northern Iraq, gunmen killed Hussam Hilal Sarsam, a Kurdish cameraman for the Kurdish satellite channel KurdSat, witnesses who saw his corpse transported by Iraqi troops outside the governor's office in Mosul said.
  • Twelve miles south of Baghdad, a suicide car bomb exploded in Youssifiyah, said police Lt. Adnan Mohammed of the nearby Mahmudiyah hospital said. The blast missed a convoy of sport utility vehicles, hitting a civilian vehicle instead and wounding four civilians.
  • In the capital, five bodyguards of Sa'ad al-Amily, the Health Ministry's director general, were wounded in a roadside bomb attack, a police captain said on condition of anonymity. The guards were heading to al-Amily's home to pick him up at the time, he said.
  • Just west of Baghdad, gunmen killed an Iraqi army captain while he was driving his car in Abu Ghraib district, said 1st Lt. Akram al-Zobaei.
  • U.S. Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Mosul to visit the new commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq. Myers arrived in Mosul from Cairo, Egypt, where he met Sunday with his Egyptian military counterparts and with U.S. military officers.
  • On Sunday, two American security contractors working for Blackwater Security were killed and a third was wounded in a roadside bombing south of Baghdad on the main road to Hillah, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Bob Callahan.
  • In Mosul, U.S. and Iraqi troops killed five insurgents in street fighting Sunday, the military said. Three other people, a woman and two children, were killed inadvertently when an American helicopter gunship fired at insurgents, according to Mosul's Al-Jumhuri Teaching Hospital.
  • Also Sunday, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin reported new contact and information about the kidnapped French journalist Florence Aubenas and Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi, her Iraqi interpreter. Raffarin said the new contacts gave hope the Liberation newspaper reporter could be freed.

    Ali al-Dabagh of the clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance said he was optimistic a final deal would be reached with the Kurds before parliament meets Wednesday. But "if no agreement is reached, the first session of the national assembly will be held on Wednesday anyway," he said.

    Outside the northern Iraqi city of Irbil on Sunday, Kurdish leaders met Sunday to hammer out final details on a coalition government in accordance with a deal reached earlier this month with the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance.

    "The basic Kurdish demands are not about the Kurds only but the whole of Iraq, we are working for an Iraqi process — a coalition government that respects the constitution," said Interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, a Kurd.

    Interim Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, also a Kurd, said a Kurdish delegation was to meet with the alliance again on Monday before the deal is announced, emphasizing that a final agreement was close.

    Talibani, Saleh and Zebari all headed to Baghdad from the north on Monday.

    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.

    Since 1991, Kurds enjoyed de-facto independence, protected from Saddam's military by a U.S.-enforced no-fly-zone. The Kurdish enclave has since then been off-limits to the Iraqi army.