Monday, January 09, 2006

Iraqi Leaders Seek Quick Coalition

Iraq's fractious political groups could form a coalition government within weeks, the country's president said as U.S. officials have increased post-election contacts with disaffected Sunni Arabs linked to the insurgency. Jalal Talabani, Iraq's President, offered a timeframe on the formation of a government after meeting with visiting British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who said Iraqis remain optimistic about their future despite suffering through a violent week that saw nearly 200 people killed in two days, including 11 U.S. troops.
Iraq President Jalal Talabani
In an effort to help draw Sunni Arabs into the political process and dampen violence, U.S. officials for months have been communicating directly or through channels with members of the disaffected minority connected to the insurgency. A Western diplomat on Saturday reported a recent "uptick" in those contacts. Those insurgents "sense that the political process does protect the Sunni community's interest," the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. A U.S. official said the coalition does not talk to foreign terrorists or supporters of Saddam Hussein's ousted regime but said it was important to isolate extremists from the broader Sunni Arab community. Meeting with Straw in Baghdad, Talabani said Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political groups had agreed in principle on a national unity government that could be formed within a few weeks. Western diplomats in Baghdad have speculated that a government could be in place by late February.
"Everyone is expecting to have it as soon as possible, but you know the devil is in the details," Talabani said. He said it should be easier to form a new government than it was after the Jan. 30 elections last year, when it took nearly three months. Talabani and other Kurdish leaders met over the New Year's holiday with Sunni Arab and Shiite political leaders. The meetings in northern Irbil helped shape agreement on the general outlines of a broad-based coalition government. Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a member of the Shiite Alliance and head of the Dawa party, said in a separate meeting with Straw that the Shiite "alliance and the coalition of Kurdistan and the other tickets, fortunately, are keen to make a national unity government. That common feeling will make the process easier."