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Govt deal eludes Iraqi leaders as 28 dead in Shiite south

35 Iraqis hurt in Baghdad church attack arrive in France
Paris (AFP) Nov 8, 2010 - Thirty-five Iraqis wounded in a deadly Al-Qaeda attack on a church in Baghdad arrived late Monday in France, where they were to be admitted to hospitals for treatment. The group, who bear bullet and grenade wounds from the October 31 attack, arrived at Orly airport outside Paris on a plane dispatched to Iraq earlier Monday to collect them, an AFP reporter said. They were welcomed at their airport by French Immigration Minister Eric Besson. The group included 34 Christians and a Muslim guard hurt in the hostage-taking at the church, as well as 19 companions. Al-Qaeda gunmen stormed a Syriac Catholic cathedral during mass, prompting an assault by Iraqi and US security forces. Forty-six people were killed.

Iran role wanes in Iraq: US officer
Washington (AFP) Nov 8, 2010 - A top US military officer said Monday that Iran's influence has waned in neighboring Iraq, where prolonged negotiations have struggled to decide on a new government. "Probably in the last couple months, in this period of government formation, I think that we think that the Iranian influence has diminished somewhat," said Lieutenant General Robert Cone, the deputy commander of US operations in Iraq. Cone gave a nuanced take on the role of Iran, which is a sworn foe of the United States but also strongly opposed Saddam Hussein's regime.

"We see all sorts of Iranian influence -- some of it positive, in fact," Cone told reporters in Washington by video-link. "We believe some of it (is) negative, although it's very difficult to attribute that to the Iranian government," he said, explaining that weapons heading across the border could come from non-government players. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a member of Iraq's Shiite majority that was persecuted under Saddam, last month visited Iran where he appealed to the Shiite clerical regime to help in his country's reconstruction. Maliki's rival Iyad Allawi, whose alliance is mainly Sunni backed, has accused Iran of meddling in government formation talks and looked to support from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states.

Iraq has been without a government since March 7 legislative elections, which were the second since the US-led invasion in 2003. Allawi's alliance finished slightly ahead of Maliki's bloc, but neither came close to a parliamentary majority. President Barack Obama, an early opponent of the Iraq war, in August declared an end to combat operations but has left nearly 50,000 troops on the ground in an "advise and assist" role. Cone stood by Obama's timeline to withdraw the remaining troops by the end of 2011 but stressed that an unspecified number of forces would remain to guard US interests including the embassy. "We will always have a requirement to provide some level of security for Americans that are in this country for the foreseeable future," Cone said. But Cone said that the US image was at stake in meeting the timeline.
by Staff Writers
Arbil, Iraq (AFP) Nov 8, 2010
Iraq's political leaders on Monday failed to agree on a proposed new power-sharing accord on the first day of all-party talks to break an eight-month deadlock as rival blocs stuck to their demands.

While the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders said talks would continue in Baghdad on Tuesday and Wednesday, three car bombings in Iraq's mainly Shiite south killed at least 28 people, police and military sources said.

Shiite pilgrims from Iran were the targets in the shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala.

Monday's meeting in the northern city of Arbil attended by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his chief rival, former premier Iyad Allawi, followed an agreement struck by the main Shiite bloc and a Kurdish coalition.

But their opening remarks to the three-day meeting indicated neither Maliki nor Allawi had backed down from their positions, prolonging a deadlock which has left Iraq without a government since a March 7 legislative election.

"It is necessary quickly to form a government which reflects the results of the elections," said Allawi, whose Iraqiya party narrowly won the poll and who accuses his rival of refusing to respect the results.

"We must be equal in rights, duties and power-sharing, without anyone having the upper hand," said Allawi, who also accuses Maliki of monopolising power and wants constitutional amendments to lessen the influence of the premier.

While Allawi insisted the election results be respected, Maliki in his remarks referred to respect for the constitution, which reserves maximum rights for the premier's post.

"Partnership must be concluded with true partners who respect the constitution," Maliki said.

With the political deadlock unresolved, a suicide bomber in Karbala drew his booby-trapped vehicle next to a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims, detonated his payload and killed 10 people, four of them pilgrims from Iran, police said.

An attack also targeted three buses carrying Iranian pilgrims in Najaf, another shrine city in the south where a car bombing killed eight people, all but two of them from Iran.

And a car-bomb attack in the port city of Basra killed at least 10 people and wounded 30 at a crowded market, a military officer on the scene said.

Against the background of a flare-up in violence since the end of October, Iraqiya members said their Sunni-backed party was being pressed to accept the post of parliament speaker.

Iraqi Kurdistan's regional president Massud Barzani had called the meeting in the Kurdish capital of Arbil.

The Kurds -- kingmakers by virtue of their seats in parliament -- have been shrewdly trying to extract as many concessions as possible from both sides in return for their support.

The Kurdish coalition has thrown its backing behind Maliki.

But Barzani said at the end of the first day of talks that his bloc's final position on whom it backs as president, prime minister and parliament speaker will be announced after the Baghdad meetings.

"The most important issues must be decided in the next two days," Barzani told reporters.

"The three positions will be discussed tomorrow and the day after, and the decision of the Kurds will be announced in the meeting of parliament," which is scheduled for Thursday.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on Sunday a deal had been clinched the previous day between the National Alliance, which represents the main Shiite parties, and the Kurdish coalition.

"An agreement was reached ... in which Jalal Talabani (a Kurd) will continue as head of state, (Shiite) Nuri al-Maliki will stay on as prime minister and Iraqiya will choose its candidate for parliament speaker," Dabbagh told AFP.

Dabbagh said that despite outstanding issues, Iraq's parliament would meet as planned on Thursday to choose a speaker, the first step towards forming a new government.

Iraq's second general election since the 2003 US-led invasion ended in deadlock after none of the main parties won enough of the 325 seats in parliament to form a majority government.

Iraqiya won the election with 91 seats, followed by Maliki's State of Law Alliance with 89.

Parliament has since remained in hiatus, but on October 24 the supreme court ordered MPs to resume work and choose a speaker. The constitution stipulates that a speaker, president and prime minister must be elected in that order.

Maliki's alliance with the Kurds gives the sitting prime minister a clear majority in parliament.

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US commander says Qaeda still a threat in Iraq
Baghdad (AFP) Nov 6, 2010
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