Anti-American cleric urges Iraqi leaders to form new government within a week

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Iraqi cleric: political impasse must end in 1 week

BAGHDAD — An anti-American Shiite cleric is calling on Iraq’s top political leaders to hammer out an agreement on a new government within the next week.

In a statement released Saturday evening, Shiite hard-liner Muqtada al-Sadr urged President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and former premier Ayad Allawi to set aside their personal differences and end the political crisis that has stymied the formation of a new government since the March 7 election.

Al-Maliki and Allawi are political rivals who each want to be Iraq’s next prime minister.

Al-Sadr’s statement comes as Talabani faces a June 15 deadline to seat the newly elected parliament.

It also serves in part as a reminder of al-Sadr’s growing influence after his party won 40 seats in parliament.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

BAGHDAD (AP) — Gunmen killed a third candidate from the Sunni-backed coalition that won the most seats in Iraq’s March parliamentary election, a slaying the alliance said Saturday was part of a politically motivated campaign of assassinations.

Faris Jassim al-Jubouri’s attackers came to his home in the middle of the night dressed in army uniforms, according to brother Marwan Jassim, a police officer who was there at the time. He said they demanded details about al-Jubouri, then found him sleeping on the roof to escape the heat, shot him three times, and fled.

Police and morgue officials confirmed the killing. Al-Jubouri had run on the secularist Iraqiya list.

“This killing is part of series of assassinations targeting members of the Iraqiya list, definitely for political reasons,” said party spokeswoman Maysoun Damlouji. “The Iraqiya list does not want to escalate the situation, but we won’t sit silent over the killing of any Iraqi.”

The Iraqiya coalition, headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, has been at the center of a political showdown since Iraq’s inconclusive parliamentary election on March 7.z

Iraqiya won two more parliamentary seats than its closest rival, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but no single group secured an outright majority, making a coalition government necessary.

Al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated party has joined up with a Shiite religious bloc in hopes of capturing enough seats in parliament to run the next government.

Iraqiya received much of its support from Iraq’s disaffected Sunni minority, which lost its political dominance with Saddam Hussein’s 2003 ouster. There are fears that if Iraqiya is left out of the next government — despite its election win — that Sunnis could feel further marginalized and violence could worsen, particularly attacks against government security forces.

Al-Jubouri, a former military pilot during Saddam’s regime, had not been expected to take a seat in the new parliament because he had failed to win enough votes.

He was the third Allawi-linked candidate to be gunned down in and around Mosul in recent months.

Also Saturday, a senior Kurdish official in northern Iraq said Iranian troops have crossed the Iraqi border in pursuit of Iranian Kurdish rebels and are encamped in a border village about a mile (1.6 kilometers) into Iraq.

About 35 Iranian soldiers remain in the village of Perdunaz after crossing the border two days earlier, according to Jabar Yawar, a deputy minister in the Kurdish autonomous region.

Iranian troops have been shelling the region for days in pursuit of a Kurdish rebel group known as the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan, or PEJAK, he said. Iran has previously targeted the border areas in pursuit of PEJAK fighters.

A PEJAK official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the group’s fighters killed two Iranian soldiers in a raid June 1. Iran’s reported incursion could be aimed at preventing further cross-border assaults.

Iraq’s Defense Ministry declined comment. Iranian officials were not immediately available to comment.

Associated Press writers Bushra Juhi in Baghdad and Yahya Barzanji in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, contributed to this report.

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