BAGHDAD - Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was expected to meet with all the major political parties on Sunday in a bid to break the deadlock over who should head the war-torn nation's key security ministries.
Over a week since Iraq's first permanent post-invasion government was sworn in without ministers of defense, interior or national security, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has missed his declared deadline to appoint the ministers.
Talabani announced his planned meetings in an effort to break the deadlock and find a consensus over some dozen candidates for the two posts, which are subject to great debate among the different ethnic and sectarian parties making up the national unity government.
"We all agree that we should choose two Iraqis that are independent, far from the political parties and far from what we call militias, that can do their job well," said Talabani in a statement.
Talabani also nixed an idea for Sunni politician Khalaf al-Alyan to take over the defense ministry since he headed one of the parties in the main Sunni Arab coalition.
The previous government, and especially its interior minister Bayan Jabr Solagh, was accused of having close links with the Shiite Badr militia and turning a blind eye to militia-linked violence.
Hassan al-Sunaid, a parliamentarian with the prime minister's Dawa party predicted that a pair of former Iraqi army generals, one Sunni, one Shiite, would be chosen for the jobs.
"I think Baraa Najib al-Rubayi for defense and for the interior Nasser al-Ameri -- they have a big chance," he said. "I think tomorrow (Monday) the prime minister will announce these two names, it's almost confirmed."
Over the last few weeks many "almost confirmed" names have swirled around, only to disappear from sight while on the verge of being nominated.
While Iraq's new government is being hailed for its inclusive nature, the delicate effort in balancing four major political blocs and doling out positions has made its formation a tortuous process.
Sunday's parliamentary session was another indication of the fractious nature of Iraqi politics with a debate erupting over the power of the Sunni speaker of parliament that Shiites and Kurdish lawmakers were looking to dilute.
The Sunni National Concord Front want to grant the speaker wide powers which set off the Shiite and Kurdish alliances, who are insisting his decisions be with the consensus of his (Shiite and Kurdish) deputy speakers, said an official in parliament.
By the session's end the debate had still not been settled. Since its inception, the new parliament has spent all its time debating its internal rules.
Violence, meanwhile, has continued across the country, with Baghdad's daily plague of car bombs starting early with a pair of blasts in the upscale Shiite neighborhood of Karrada near the city center, killing three and wounding 22.
Two others were killed in separate incidents in Baquba, north of the capital and a tribal leader was killed between Kirkuk and Tikrit.
It is hoped resolving the issue of the ministers will improve the country's security situation. Leaders of the United States and Britain are under great pressure to bring their troops home as domestic enthusiasm for the war wanes.
US President George W. Bush on Saturday compared the "war against terror" to the Cold War struggle against communism, vowing to push for democracy in the Middle East.
"So long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it remains a place where terrorists foment resentment and threaten American security," he told graduating cadets at the army's elite US Military Academy at West Point in New York state.
The speech came two days ahead of the public holiday Memorial Day, on which the United States honors fallen soldiers.
Since the invasion, 2,465 US serviceman have died, according to an AFP count based on Pentagon figures. On Saturday a US helicopter crashed in the restive Anbar province and its two pilots were declared missing.
The BBC reported that at least 1,000 British soldiers have "deserted" since the March 2003 invasion -- an assertion the British ministry of defense has denied, referring to the number of deserters since 1989 as "a handful".
05/28/2006 12:52 GMT
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