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Bitterness Intensifies Over Iraqi Deadlock

Times Staff Writer

His music has to fit his mood, so when Ahmed Izzedine drives these days through Baghdad, where a road that was safe yesterday might spell death today, he wants music that demands volume.

“I’m focusing on hard rock and metal now,” said the 32-year-old musician and computer whiz with a taste for Linkin Park, Metallica and Def Leppard. “You put it on in the car and raise the volume way up and you don’t care about the bombs or anything else.”

But the heavy-metal cocoon is no defense against the anger and exasperation Izzedine feels when the conversation turns to Iraq’s politicians.

In December, he and millions of Iraqis braved the threat of violence to vote for their first permanent government in the post-Saddam Hussein era, electing 275 lawmakers to hammer out a power-sharing agreement among parties of Iraq’s various ethnic and religious blocs. More than four months later, they are still waiting for the politicians to form a government.

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“I don’t count on them. I don’t trust them. And I would never vote for them again,” Izzedine said.

Iraq’s parliament will convene today for just the second time since that election. The lawmakers are expected to sit for just an hour.

Parliament is expected to elect a speaker and two deputies, and avoid the much thornier matter of agreeing on a prime minister and key ministers that has bedeviled the mix of Sunni Arab, Shiite, Kurdish and secular political factions.

Many here say the inability to agree on a prime minister and other key posts has paralyzed attempts to suppress the country’s spiraling sectarian violence.

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The stream of assassinations and bombings continued Wednesday. Three university professors traveling to Baghdad were killed by gunmen, and five bound bodies bearing marks of torture were found in the capital.

A U.S. soldier was reported killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad, and insurgents blew up a new police station in the volatile town of Yousifiya south of the capital, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. No one was wounded in the attack.

Many Iraqis blame interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, a Shiite, for weak leadership that has allowed the violence to spread across much of the country. But Jafari has refused to step aside despite unyielding resistance to his candidacy from Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties -- as well as from Washington.

In Washington, President Bush told reporters that “the Iraqis must step up and form a unity government so that those who went to the polls to vote recognize that a government will be in place to respond to their needs.”

But Jafari stood firm Wednesday.

“Stepping down is absolutely not in my consideration,” Jafari said during a nationally televised news conference. “I can’t understand how resigning would benefit the national interest.”

And whatever their own doubts about the prime minister’s performance and competence, disparate Shiite factions have balked at forming a “salvation” government, as proposed Saturday by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

The result has been political deadlock that has slowly sapped citizens’ confidence in their nascent democracy.

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Many accuse the politicians they elected amid high hopes four months ago of putting personal ambition ahead of national interests, of squabbling over spoils while the country burns.

“Their loyalty is not to Iraq,” said Riadh, a Baghdad computer company owner who would not give his last name for fear of attracting attention. “You have all these men fighting for jobs, all of them weak. And because of that, there has been blood. For what?

“I’m sorry for saying this, but no,” he said when asked whether going to the polls in December had been worth the risk.

Many Iraqis lament the increasing fear in their daily lives. They resent having to worry about being stopped at the wrong checkpoint carrying an identification card with the wrong religious designation, about whether the men wearing police uniforms should be trusted or feared.

“If there is no government, there is no security,” said Hamza Khudaier, 25, a Shiite engineer. Like others interviewed across Iraq, Khudaier wants a strong leader to emerge.

“Militias are dominating the streets,” he said, “so the PM [prime minister] must be strict.”

It is an oft-repeated refrain in a culture where most of the people have known only the fist of dictatorship, and yearn for the safety it delivered as long as you minded your own business.

“I want the prime minister to be fair to everyone,” said Buthaina Maaroof, a 51-year-old Sunni homemaker. “But he should also be highly educated and powerful.”

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And yet the violence and the political failures have not expunged all hope that a civil society can emerge.

“Democracy is established,” Izzedine said. “But did we choose the right people? That’s the problem. It’s not a problem of democracy.”

To these Iraqis, the politicians who have filled the post-Hussein vacuum are out of touch with the desperation on the streets.

Many worry that the politicians’ incessant jockeying has uncorked a virulent sectarianism that threatens to consume the country.

They wonder whether it’s already too late, whether politicians have lost the ability to regain control.

“Their time has passed; we know they are weak,” Izzedine said. “The sectarian war has already started. And the politicians can’t solve it, because they are the cause of it.”

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Times staff writers Zainab Hussein and Saif Hameed contributed to this report.


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