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Pentagon: 400 Hits Weekly In Iraq

The Pentagon says the pace of insurgent attacks in Iraq in recent weeks is approaching last year's levels.

Officials say there have been about 400 attacks a week of all kinds after a post-election lull: bombings, shootings, rocket and mortar attacks. About half cause significant damage or injure or kill someone.

After months of haggling over the makeup of Iraq's post-Saddam Hussein government, Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari has completed a draft list of Cabinet ministers that he is submitting to the president, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Lawmakers said that under the proposal, Shiites would get the majority of the 32 ministries, with the others distributed among Kurdish, Sunni and Christian factions. Three deputy premiers are also proposed — one each from the majority Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

Air Force General Richard Myers — chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dispute that the increase in violent attacks represents a lack of progress.

A defense official says about 60 people — including Iraqis, Americans and other foreigners — are injured or killed daily in attacks.

In Other Developments:

  • Iraqi militants threatening to kill three Romanian journalists and an American hostage issued a new video, extending the deadline until Wednesday for Romania to withdraw its troops, Al Jazeera television said. The militants said in the Tuesday video they would begin killing the hostages at 6 p.m. the next day unless their demands were met, the network reported. Two of the hostages, Romanian Sorin Miscoci and Iraqi American Mohammed Monaf, were seen in the video wearing orange jumpsuits — which kidnappers in the past have put on their hostages when they kill them.
  • More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since April 2004, and at least 17 are believed to still be in captivity. More than 30 were killed by their kidnappers.
  • A senior U.S. military official in Washington said U.S. forces believe they just missed capturing Iraq's most-wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in a Feb. 20 raid that netted two of his associates. The official, who discussed the operation on condition of anonymity, could provide no details on how al-Zarqawi escaped. He also said U.S. troops recovered a computer belonging to al-Zarqawi, but did not say how.
  • Insurgents fired five mortar shells Tuesday at a U.S. base in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad. U.S. Maj. Richard Goldenberg said American forces did not return fire and suffered no casualties. Police said a shell that hit outside the base wounded an Iraqi civilian. The U.S. command said that American troops and their Iraqi allies had struck back at the insurgents this week, staging a series of raids across the country that netted more than 130 suspected extremists and several big caches of weapons.
  • Charles Duelfer, the CIA's top weapons hunter in Iraq, said in his final report that the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq "has been exhausted" without finding any. U.S. and British warnings about Saddam Hussein's alleged WMDs had been a main argument for the coalition's invasion of Iraq more than two years ago.
  • A senior U.S. defense official said an American inquiry into the fatal shooting of an Italian intelligence officer in Baghdad is expected to conclude that U.S. soldiers generally followed standing instructions when they fired on a car he was in. But the investigation into the March 4 shooting, when the officer was guarding an Italian journalist leaving Iraq after she was freed as a hostage, is expected to raise questions about the rules of engagement at the checkpoint where the shooting occurred, the official said.

  • Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari discussed his proposal with President Jalal Talabani on Tuesday, the premier's spokesman, Abdul Razak al-Kadhimi, said. But some members of al-Jaafari's United Iraqi Alliance later said the meeting never took place; it was not possible to verify their claim.

    Talabani's three-member presidential council must sign off on the list before it is submitted to the 275-member National Assembly for a vote. Talabani already indicated he would not exercise his veto, and lawmakers said a vote could take place as soon as Wednesday.

    However, such predictions have repeatedly proved false since Cabinet negotiations began after parliamentary elections Jan. 30.

    Late Tuesday, al-Jaafari went back for further talks with Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and other members of his Shiite-dominated alliance to discuss the candidates for the Cabinet, lawmakers said.

    Alliance lawmaker Dhia al-Shakarchi said Shiite leaders raised concerns that some of the Sunni candidates might have had links to terrorist groups and to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, which brutally repressed Shiites and Kurds.

    Under al-Jaafari's proposal, Iraq's Shiites would head 17 ministries, said Ali al-Adib and Hadi al-Ameri, lawmakers in the alliance, which holds 148 seats in parliament. Eight ministries would go to the alliance's Kurdish allies, six to Sunni Arab groups and one to a Christian faction, they said.

    Fouad Massoum, a senior member of Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, confirmed most of the breakdown, but was not aware a Christian would get a post.

    Hoping to end the haggling, al-Jaafari decided to appoint three deputy prime ministers — one each from the country's main ethnic and religious groups, lawmakers said.

    Absent from the proposed Cabinet was outgoing Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqi List party, which had asked for at least four ministries, including a senior post, and a deputy premiership. The Iraqi List has 40 seats in the National Assembly.

    Shiite lawmakers said Sunday they had given up trying to balance Allawi's demands with those of Sunni factions that could offer help in beginning talks with Sunni militants, who are believed to be the backbone of the insurgency.

    Many Shiites have long resented the secular Allawi, accusing his outgoing administration of including former Baathist in the government and security forces.

    Iraqi politicians have been under increasing U.S. pressure to get a transitional government formed, so they can focus on taking over efforts to suppress the insurgency.

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