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Iraqi politicians blame each other for lack of new government

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Iraqi politicians in the last few days have begun using uncommonly bitter language to blame one another for the impasse over a new government, a development that suggests that stalemated talks are nowhere near success.

All sides say no one is showing a sense of urgency to resolve the situation, more than four months after Iraqi voters went to the polls on Dec. 15. Some suggest it may be weeks, if not months, before a government is in place.

"I don't think anybody is in a hurry," said Mahmoud Othman, a top Kurdish leader who has harshly criticized his fellow politicians. "They are completely out of touch with the voters."

One reason for that, he said, is that most Iraqi leaders live in the U.S.-protected Green Zone and aren't faced with the lack of security that most Iraqis feel every day. "They are protected," Othman said.

The political attacks, predictably, are along sectarian lines, with Sunnis saying Shiites are stalling the process by not nominating a new prime minister candidate, and some Shiites saying Sunni politicians want more power in the new government than they won via the ballot box.

Only a few weeks ago, politicians from rival groups often spoke optimistically of reaching an accommodation.

Now, they're scrambling to make it clear to their constituents that the problem of forming a government lies not with them, but with others.

At a televised press conference on Tuesday, Saleh al Mutlaq, a top Sunni politician, said he was embarrassed by the delay. He said that there's a "race for posts while Iraqis are being killed."

A Shiite politician allied with radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr said Shiites are ready to move forward. "We are not delaying the formation of the government," said Baha al Araji, a member of the United Iraqi Alliance, which dominates the interim government. "We are ready to cooperate, but we see others calling for roles and posts bigger than what they deserve."

Public anger at the delay is a regular feature of television and radio shows. Most callers say that the lack of a new government is insulting and that the democratic process is a sham.

The anger is indiscriminate. In one unscientific television poll asking viewers their opinions on the reasons for the delay, nearly half the respondents cited "lack of leadership."

Non-Shiite politicians say there's no incentive for the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance to resolve the debate. The delay, they charge, doesn't hurt it.

"They are keen on serving their own interests and not those of the country," said Ali al Tamimi, a member of the Maram Gatherings, a small party that represents a range of religious and ethnic groups. "The reason for the delay is that we have people who have come to power without really being competent."

In addition to the fight over the prime minister's job, there are disagreements over who should serve as president, the two vice presidents and speaker of the parliament.

Negotiators meet daily. But the meetings, which sometimes last until 11 p.m., have so far ended without a resolution.

Some U.S. officials acknowledge that the delay is troublesome, but they say that parties fighting for their interests is part of the process.

"They are representing their constituency," said a diplomatic official in Washington, who asked for anonymity because he isn't authorized to speak on the administration's behalf.

Othman doesn't see the upside. "Every day we have 100 people killed and we don't talk about that" in our meetings, he said. "What kind of responsibility is this?"

As Othman spoke, Iraqi police reported that 15 bodies were found around the capital. Some were badly tortured, they said.


(Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondents Zaineb Obeid, Mohammed al Dulaimy and Ahmed Mukhtar contributed to this report.)


(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.