Secular Shiites refuse talks for new Iraqi government

Sunni Arab and secular groups refused to open discussions with the Shiite religious bloc leading in Iraq’s parliamentary elections until a full review of the contested results is carried out.

Their refusal could deepen the political turmoil following a senior UN official’s endorsement of Iraq’s December 15 elections. The official said the results were credible and that the results should stand.

“We are not taking part in discussions,” said Nasser al-Ani, a senior official in the main Sunni Arab coalition – the Iraqi Accordance Front.

He said his political group favoured participating in broad-based coalition government, but would not begin contacts “until we get a clear picture about the results of the investigation.”

The UN endorsement came yesterday after opposition groups demanded international intervention and an independent review of more than 1,500 complaints about irregularities.

Preliminary results from the vote have given the governing Shiite religious bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, a big lead – but one which still would require forming a coalition with other groups.

The Shiite bloc has for the past three days been holding talks with Kurdish leaders and others politicians to begin forming a coalition government after final results are released next week.

Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s Kurd president, was holding talks at his Lake Dokan retreat in the Kurdish north with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the cleric who heads the United Iraqi Alliance, and other members of that religious groups. There were no Sunni Arabs or secular Shiites at the meeting.

Al-Hakim has said that preparations were being made to choose a candidate for prime minister, who they have said must come from the United Iraqi Alliance.

Alliance officials have indicated the likely candidates for prime minister are current Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who heads the Islamic Dawa party, and Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who belongs to the other main Shiite party, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

“We cannot discuss issues related to the formation of a new government before a settlement is reached about the violations and complaints raised by many lists,” said Mehedi al-Hafidh, senior member of the secular Iraqi National List headed by former Shiite Premier Ayad Allawi.

He added that members of the ticket met in Baghdad and decided to wait until final results are released and all complaints reviewed.

“We confirm that we are not part of this process of consultations to form a new government,” al-Hafidh said.

Preliminary results, which gave a big lead to the ruling Shiite religious bloc, also indicated that Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, a former Washington insider, will not be re-elected to the new 275-member parliament, his office said.

In violence today, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt on a street near the Interior Ministry, killing one police officer and wounding four others, police said. Earlier police had said four were killed. Gunmen in Baghdad assassinated an Iraqi driver working with a French company, said police Capt. Qassem Hussein.

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