Iraqi assembly to meet on March 16th, deputy PM says


Iraq will hold a meeting of its newly elected National Assembly in 10 days with or without a new government, the deputy prime minister said today.

Five weeks after elections, the lack of agreement between leading parties over who will lead the new government has increased fears that unrest will spiral unchecked.

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said he hoped politicians would end horse-trading over top posts before the meeting.

The main point of contention between the three leading parties is who will be prime minister. A Shi'ite alliance which won a slim parliamentary majority in the January 30th polls, gaining power after decades of Sunni Arab domination under Saddam Hussein, has chosen Ibrahim Jaafari as its candidate for prime minister.

Pro-American interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is also bidding to keep his job. Both have launched a charm offensive with the Kurds who, having come second in the elections, can make or break a deal.

The Shi'ite alliance needs the Kurdish vote to secure the two-thirds majority required to select a new government. The powerful Kurdish coalition said yesterday it would not back the Shi'ite alliance unless they received an assurance that a harsh Islamic legal regime would not be imposed.