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Bombers target Iraqi police
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Car bombs killed six policemen and wounded 15 in new attacks on Iraq's security services Thursday as political factions wrangled over putting together a government.
The Shiite Muslim-dominated United Iraqi Alliance and a Kurdish coalition, which emerged from the Jan. 30 elections with the two biggest blocks of seats in the National Assembly, made little headway in their talks on combining forces to select the leaders of the new government.
Meanwhile, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, whose party finished third, denied rumors he had given up his effort to stitch together support from other groups, including the Kurds, that would allow him to remain prime minister.
Forming Iraq's first democratically elected government is a key step in the U.S. plan for stabilizing the country, and insurgents have been striking at Iraqi police and military forces seeking to undermine the effort.
Two suicide car bombs exploded outside the Interior Ministry in eastern Baghdad and killed at least five policemen and wounded nine, the defense ministry reported.
Another car bomb targeted a police convoy in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of the capital, and killed one Iraqi policeman and a civilian, the U.S. military said. Six officers and 10 civilians were injured.
In the north, insurgents blew up a natural gas pipeline between Kirkuk and Dibis, about 20 miles away. Officials said the blast would reduce gas production, but could not immediately say by how much.
State of emergency
Violence that has killed hundreds of people the past three weeks led Allawi to extend a state of emergency until the end of March. First announced nearly four months ago, the order affects all of Iraq except Kurdish-run areas in the north.
The emergency decree includes a nighttime curfew and gives the government extra powers to make arrests without warrants and launch police and military operations when it deems necessary.
The U.S. military reported that three American soldiers were killed in action Wednesday, pushing the number of U.S. military deaths since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 to 1,502, according to an Associated Press count.
The military said two soldiers were mortally wounded when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle in Baghdad. Another soldier was killed in Babil province.
At least 1,140 Americans, including four civilians working for the military, have died from hostile action, according to the Defense Department. The other deaths are from non-combat causes.
More than a month after the elections, negotiations between the cleric-supported United Iraqi Alliance and the coalition of Kurdish parties are struggling and plans for convening the 275-member National Assembly this week have been suspended.
The United Iraqi Alliance won 140-seats and wants the leader of its Islamic Dawa party, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to be the next prime minister. But it needs the support of 42 other deputies to elect a president -- the first step in selecting a prime minister.
"Everyone's bewildered. It's hard to reach a solution. There should be compromises for a solution to be reached," said Ali Faisal of the Shiite Political Council, a member of the alliance.
The Kurdish coalition, an alliance between Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Masoud Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party, has 75 seats and thus is a key player in negotiations over potential governing coalitions.
Talabani and Barzani told reporters in Irbil on Thursday that they will ally with whichever groups support their demands to expand the autonomous Kurdish region and to retain control over their Peshmerga militias, which they do not want to disband.
Barzani said talks were continuing with other parties but refused to comment on their substance, describing the task of forming a government as a "laborious operation that takes time and effort."
"We deal with a program, not with people. We support having a national coalition government. If this is not possible, we will agree with the list that will fulfill our demands," Barzani said.
Allawi, whose party won 40 seats, also has been courting the Kurds as well as other political parties, including the communists, in an effort to remain head of the government.
There were rumors Thursday that Allawi was dropping his bid, but his spokesman, Thaer al-Naqib, denied that. He said Allawi was "still a strong candidate" for the premiership.