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Iraq's Allawi opens coalition talks to all

Supporters of Premier-elect Iyad Allawi carry his picture as they celebrate his secular Iraqiya list's election victory outside party headquarters in Baghdad on March 27, 2010. Allawi was to begin talks to form a government after his bloc edged out incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's coalition in declared results from Iraq's election. AFP PHOTO/SABAH ARAR

Three killed, at least 11 wounded in Iraq bombings
Ramadi, Iraq (AFP) March 28, 2010 - Bombs at the house of a prominent militia leader opposed to Al-Qaeda killed three people and wounded at least 11 in west Iraq on Sunday, security officials said. The first bomb, planted by insurgents at the partially finished home of Sunni militia leader Murdhi Mohammed Khlaif in the town of Al-Qaim, went off at 9:00 am (0600 GMT) and killed three people, drawing a crowd, the town's police chief said. Colonel Jamal Shahab said that a second blast from explosives packed in a barrel wounded 11 people in the crowd.

But Lieutenant Jihad Mahalawi, who was at the scene of the bombings, gave a slightly different account, saying that the second bombing had killed the three people, and also wounded 20. The house was under construction and neither Khlaif or any family members were on the site. He is the leader of a local Sunni militia that sided with the US military and turned against Al-Qaeda, helping stem the tide of a deadly insurgency in 2006. Al-Qaim lies 340 kilometres (210 miles) west of Baghdad in predominantly Sunni Anbar province, Iraq's largest. The violence follows just two days after Iraq's election commission announced complete results from the March 7 general election in which former premier Iyad Allawi narrowly edged out incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's coalition.

Allawi is in talks to cobble together a coalition government and security officials have warned that a protracted process could give insurgent groups an opportunity to further destabilise the country. Violence has dropped dramatically across Iraq since its peak in 2006 and 2007, but attacks remain common, especially in Baghdad and the restive northern city of Mosul. The election was a key test for Iraq, where US forces which invaded in 2003 have gradually been withdrawing. All American combat troops are set to withdraw from the country by the end of August, with the remainder pulling out altogether by the end of 2011.

Civilian missing in Iraq returned: US military
Washington (AFP) March 28, 2010 - A US Army civilian employee believed to have been kidnapped in Iraq in January has been returned to US military control, the US Department of Defense announced. Issa Salomi, 60, became unaccounted for on January 23 and was believed to have been kidnapped by a Shiite militant group in Baghdad, where he was assigned to US Forces. Salomi, an interpreter for the US army, was returned on March 25, the department said Saturday, adding the circumstances of his disappearance were under investigation.
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) March 27, 2010
Ex-premier Iyad Allawi, whose bloc emerged strongest from Iraq's polls, launched talks Saturday with political foes in a bid to form a coalition, offering to work with any group "without exception."

Complete results released on Friday showed Allawi's Iraqiya bloc won 91 seats in the 325-member Council of Representatives, two more than Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law Alliance.

"There must be a strong government, capable of taking decisions which serve the Iraqi people, and bring peace and stability to Iraq," Allawi told a news conference on Saturday.

Of coalition building, he said: "There have been some talks, but they were only talks. Now, the negotiations begin. These discussions will be conducted with the different political forces, without exception."

Allawi promised Iraq would open a "new page" and establish "better relations" with its neighbours -- Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Neither Iraqiya nor State of Law clinched an overall parliamentary majority and a protracted period of coalition building, which could take months, is now expected.

Allawi has appointed Rafa al-Essawi, current deputy prime minister and a member of his alliance, to lead negotiations over coalition formation.

He had said before the full results were released that he would not join forces with Maliki unless the incumbent changed his policies.

Allawi has confirmed previous talks with the Iraqi National Alliance, a coalition led by Shiite religious groups, and Kurdistania, comprised of the autonomous Kurdish region's two long-dominant blocs, which came third and fourth in the election respectively.

Maliki has refused to accept the results from the March 7 poll, insisting figures released Friday night by the election commission remained "preliminary."

Security officials have warned that lengthy period of coalition building could give insurgent groups a chance to further destabilise Iraq, with deadly bomb attacks northeast of Baghdad which killed 52 people on Friday illustrating their concerns.

Allawi said on television later that officials from his bloc had conducted a "dialogue" with the Dawa party of Maliki, although he added "there is no real reconciliation."

He said a decision to ban candidates allegedly linked to Saddam's Baath party, including several from his Iraqiya list, had harmed relations with Maliki.

"So far there has been no important dialogue (with the Dawa party) as with the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council and the Sadrists, or the Kurds, but we hope it takes place," he said.

Maliki said late Friday the election results were "not final", and refused to accept them, after previously calling for a nationwide manual recount of votes, alleging irregularities.

"It's a very close race, they want to win," Gary Grappo, the head of the US embassy's political section, told reporters on Saturday.

Maliki "will pursue all means at his disposal through the established judicial process."

Grappo described Maliki as "someone who is in an extremely tight race, who still believes that his party has a chance and therefore is not ready to accept these as the final results."

"I expect him to wage a pretty aggressive campaign to present his challenges, argue his case in the hopes of changing the ultimate seat allocation that goes to court for certification."

The United Nations and the United States have given their blessing to the election and the results.

US Ambassador Christopher Hill and General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, said in a statement there was "no evidence of widespread or serious fraud" and UN envoy Ad Melkert added that the polls were "credible."

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, meanwhile, said on a visit to Tehran that the election was a defeat for "terrorism" and marked further progress in forging a democratic nation.

The results come around five months before the United States is due to withdraw all of its combat troops from Iraq, and Washington will be keen to see a smooth outcome from the election.

All parties have three days to submit complaints, which will then be investigated by the election commission. It will likely be two weeks before Iraq's supreme court certifies the results.

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Iyad Allawi: Iraq's comeback kid
Baghdad (AFP) March 27, 2010
Former premier Iyad Allawi, who once plotted a CIA-backed coup against Saddam Hussein and was nearly murdered while in exile, is within reach of retaking power in war-ravaged Iraq. The British-trained doctor's secular Iraqiya bloc won the most seats in the March 7 election, full results released by the election commission showed, narrowly edging out incumbent Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law Al ... read more

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