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Sunnis Bargain for Iraq Role as Allawi Fades

Times Staff Writer

The victors in last month’s parliamentary election indicated Monday that they were prepared to cut a secular politician backed by Washington out of the new government in favor of Iraq’s main Sunni Arab slate.

The pro-Western politician, former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, did poorly in the Dec. 15 balloting despite spending heavily on a sleek television campaign.

“Allawi is a red line,” said Baha Araji, a member of the leading Shiite Muslim political bloc and a loyalist of radical cleric Muqtada Sadr.

Araji and other negotiators from the main Shiite slate spent much of Monday night engaged in talks with the National Accordance Front, a Sunni Muslim Arab coalition led by Islamists and clerics. The president of Iraq’s northern Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, embraced Sunni Arab leaders there.

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The emerging political alliance lumps together Shiites, Kurds and Islamist Sunni Arabs -- and excludes secular Iraqis, hard-core Sunni Arab nationalists and those sympathetic to the Baath Party of ex-dictator Saddam Hussein.

After all but enacting a cease-fire around the recent elections, Iraq’s mostly Sunni Arab insurgents have escalated their bombings and assassinations targeting officials of the Shiite-dominated government, U.S. troops and foreigners in Iraq.

A suicide bomber slammed an explosives-packed vehicle into a bus carrying police recruits in the central city of Baqubah on Monday, killing at least seven Iraqis and wounding 13.

Insurgents launched 13 car bomb attacks in a six-hour period Sunday. A total of 420 attacks over the last week have resulted in 207 casualties, Iraqi army Brig. Gen. Abdul Aziz Mohammed Jassim told reporters.

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The U.S. military also reported the deaths of four American contractors in a vehicle accident Sunday at the Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq. Nineteen others, including a Marine, were injured in the collision, which occurred when a bus was struck by a seven-ton truck, the military said.

Sunnis are a minority in Iraq, but they dominated it politically for decades. They by and large boycotted elections in early 2005 but turned out in force in December. Preliminary results show that they won about 20% of the seats in parliament.

They claim massive fraud robbed them of more seats, but representatives of the sect have begun negotiating a role in the future government. Together, the Shiite religious bloc and the Kurds won about 185 of the 275 seats in the new Council of Representatives.

In the wake of the election, the Kurds have begun demanding that Shiites speed up the process of restoring the property of Kurds expelled from the northern city of Kirkuk by Hussein’s regime.

The Shiites have set up a seven-member steering committee to enforce discipline across their unwieldy coalition. They have also created ground rules for joining the new government, including commitments to denounce political violence, uphold the constitution ratified Oct. 15 and support the removal of former Baath Party members from public life.

U.S. officials had hoped the political process would stem the insurgency, but the new Shiite rules appear likely to alienate the Sunnis and Iraqi nationalists who drive the insurgency.

Shiites, especially those loyal to Sadr, also insist that Allawi be barred from the coalition. The onetime CIA protege and American favorite, a secular Shiite who was a Baath Party member long ago, has emerged as the hope of the Iraqi intelligentsia as well as the man with whom U.S. officials are most comfortable.

Allawi spent millions on TV advertising but won only 8% of the vote. His party will get about 25 seats in parliament. U.S. officials had hoped he could assume an important post in the future government, perhaps overseeing the police as interior minister. But Sadr loyalists, who played a substantial role in the Shiites’ election success, despise Allawi because he allowed U.S. forces to launch a series of attacks against Sadr’s Al Mahdi militia in the summer of 2004.

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“Allawi represents the Baathists,” Araji said. “He’s against us. He arrested our people.”

Representatives of more moderate parties in the Shiite alliance were also dismissive of Allawi. “Maybe we will meet with Allawi, but at the end when everything is almost finished because he got so few seats,” said Sami Askari, a Shiite member of the interim parliament.

Shiites say they share a long history of opposing Hussein side by side with the Iraqi Islamic Party -- an outgrowth of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood -- the main partner in the Sunni bloc.

Alaa Makky, a leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said his group was engaged in talks despite being victimized by electoral fraud.

Shiites said the Sunnis were trying to have it both ways. “They participated in demonstrations, but when they met with us their attitude is completely different,” Askari said. “They said the whole process was successful and fair, and let us start the new government together.”

The factions talked as violence flared across the country. In one attack, a suicide car bomber struck a Turkish diplomatic motorcade, slightly injuring the ambassador as he traveled along the airport road west of Baghdad.

A roadside bomb targeted the motorcade of Industry Minister Osama Nujaifi on a highway in south Baghdad. The official was unharmed, but several of his guards were injured.

Staff writers Shamil Aziz, Saif Rasheed and Raheem Salman and a special correspondent in Baqubah contributed to this report.

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