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Despair Deepens as Iraqis Appear No Closer to Deal

Times Staff Writer

Amid unrelenting violence and a widening mood of despair, Iraqi politicians failed again to agree on a prime minister Sunday, leaving the country’s government adrift.

The inability of Iraq’s religious and ethnic factions to cut a power-sharing deal leaves the government incapable of responding forcefully to sectarian attacks that many fear are pushing the country toward civil war. Violent provocations continued Sunday, with the nation shaken by bombings, drive-by shootings and kidnappings.

The U.S. military also announced that four Marines had been killed in combat Saturday in the anarchic province of Al Anbar west of Baghdad. The names of the Marines were not released.

None of it was enough to crack the political deadlock. A parliamentary session planned for today was canceled, dashing hopes that a public gathering would compel politicians to compromise on who should lead a national unity government.

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Meanwhile, the scramble intensified for other government jobs -- from vice presidents to Cabinet ministers. Sunni parties presented five names for one of two vice presidential slots, a sign that they too cannot agree among themselves on representatives, let alone push for concessions from the splintered Shiite and Kurdish blocs.

Negotiators adjourned Sunday without agreeing on a date to reconvene a parliament that was elected four months ago but has met just once.

“These people are out of touch with the daily suffering of the people on the street,” said Mahmoud Othman, a senior Kurdish lawmaker who is not a candidate for any post. “People can’t get out of their houses in daytime. They are caught between the terrorists, the Americans, the clerics.

“And then their politicians go into a room and five people say they want to be vice president? It’s as if they are all sitting in the desert, with no people and no responsibilities.”

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The price is recorded in lives every day.

In Sunday’s bloodiest attack, a car bomb ripped through a crowd of afternoon shoppers at an outdoor market in Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, killing at least 11 and injuring 23. Mahmoudiya is a mixed Sunni-Shiite town that has seen some of the most vicious sectarian violence in the period since the U.S.-led invasion.

Earlier Sunday, a bomb hidden in a bag exploded on a minibus in central Baghdad, killing at least three Iraqi passengers and wounding six others.

In the northern city of Mosul, six construction workers -- four of them brothers -- were shot to death in a drive-by shooting as they left work for the day. The men had been clearing rubble at a bombed-out police station.

Meanwhile, insurgents kept up their attacks on U.S. troops. Al Anbar, where the latest announced military deaths took place, continues to house the core of the Sunni insurgency and has seen a recent rise in lethal attacks on American troops. Forty-eight Americans and one British soldier have died in Iraq so far this month, a daily rate three times higher than in March.

American military commanders said coalition forces shot and killed five men they described as terrorists during a post-midnight raid on a house in Yousifiya, south of Baghdad. The raid captured a man the U.S. military said was a suspected Al Qaeda operative working with foreign fighters as a bomb maker.

The U.S. troops encountered small-arms fire when they approached the house. Three of the dead men were wearing vests packed with explosives. Only one managed to detonate his bomb before being shot.

A woman was killed in the cross fire, the U.S. military said. Three other women and a child were injured.

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The seeming inevitability of violence has created a claustrophobic atmosphere in Baghdad, where every journey requires skirting dangerous neighborhoods, while police checkpoints add to the delays and tension. With sectarian killings increasing and more and more people forced to move into Sunni or Shiite enclaves for protection, some wonder if the politicians have already missed the chance to tackle the violence.

“I don’t care if the government is established,” said an unemployed 22-year-old Christian woman in Baghdad who would give her name only as Miss Kapchy. “I am not excited about it because I don’t expect this government will do anything for us, just as the previous government did not achieve anything for Iraqis.

“I want the prime minister to be a dictator, authoritative and have all the elements of power because it’s been chaos since the fall of the ex-regime.”

“They have failed the people,” Kurdish lawmaker Othman said of the politicians.

“People want somebody to be the boss here. If one night an officer makes a coup d’etat, in the morning everybody would be happy.

“They want somebody to save them,” he said. “Anything short of Saddam and his group.”

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Times staff writer Saif Hameed in Baghdad and a special correspondent in Mosul contributed to this report.

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