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Kurds, Shiites ready to convene assembly

Kurds, Shiites ready to convene assembly

Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Kurdish and Shiite leaders agreed Monday to convene Iraq's new parliament this week even if they fail to iron out some wrinkles in their deal to form a coalition government.

Shiite officials said they also agreed to reach out to the country's Sunni Arab community to name the parliament speaker for the 275-member National Assembly that convenes Wednesday.

The Shiite clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance and a Kurdish coalition, which won the two biggest blocks of seats in Jan. 30 elections, agreed last week to form a coalition government with Islamic Dawa party leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari as prime minister. In return, Jalal Talabani will become Iraq's first Kurdish president.

"We discussed the blueprint of the agreement reached Thursday. Some issues were revised and those revisions are still being discussed," alliance member Ali al-Dabagh said.

Al-Dabagh expressed optimism a final deal would be reached soon, but added that even without an agreement "the first session of the National Assembly will be held on Wednesday anyway."

Barham Saleh, a Kurd, indicated the two groups want to reach out to other factions to fill some Cabinet posts.

He said Shiite and Kurd negotiators planned to meet today with representatives from interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqi List, which placed a distant third in the parliamentary elections.

The interim government, meanwhile, announced that Iraqi security forces had captured two of Saddam's relatives in his hometown of Tikrit. The government said they helped launch terrorist attacks in Iraq.

Its statement said one-time Saddam bodyguard Marwan Taher Abdul Rashid and Abdullah Maher Abdul Rashid were arrested last Tuesday. State-run Iraqiya television said the two men were cousins and Abdullah was a brother-in-law of Saddam's slain son Qusai.

Abdullah was strongly believed to have "used big amounts of money that he received from Qusai … to finance terrorism in Iraq," and Marwan "has been involved in number of attacks against the security forces," the government statement said, giving no other details.

Neither man was listed on any of the American most-wanted lists.

Al-Dabagh declined to discuss details of the issues that had snagged the Shiite alliance's talks with the Kurds, but did say that the negotiators meeting at a home inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone talked about who should get the parliament speaker post.

"We still do not have an agreement on who will be parliament speaker," he said. "We do not want to name the speaker; the Sunnis must participate in this decision." He said they would meet with Sunni Arab representatives today.

Since the Gulf War of 1991, Kurds have enjoyed de-facto independence, protected from Saddam's military by a U.S.-enforced no-fly-zone.

The Kurdish enclave has remained off-limits to the new Iraqi army formed since Saddam's ouster two years ago.

Sunni Arabs, who make up only about 20 percent of the population but were the dominant group under Saddam Hussein's regime, largely stayed away from the elections - either to honor a boycott call or because they feared being attacked at the polls by insurgents.

Sunni Arabs are thought to make up the core of the insurgency and including them in a future government or in the political process is seen as a way to isolate the militants.

The Shiite alliance won 140 seats in the National Assembly, but need the Kurds' 75 seats to assemble the two-thirds majority required to elect a president, who will then nominate the prime minister.

Trial highlights friendship's role in militant groups

PARIS - The plot was bold and horrific: send a suicide bomber strapped with explosives into the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

The six-week trial that culminates today with the verdict opened a window onto Europe's complex networks of Muslim militants. It also showed how friendship or family ties can be a driving force that binds them together, just like faith or ideology.

In the last moments of his trial, Djamel Beghal, the suspected ringleader, was contrite.

"I'm sorry" were his final words. But Beghal wasn't admitting guilt. He was apologizing to his five co-defendants - all friends - who he said were "here because of me."

Beghal's friends and acquaintances allegedly involved in the U.S. Embassy plot spanned five European countries, with some already convicted in related cases in Belgium and the Netherlands. In court here, the six defendants appeared to be a tightly knit group.

Friendships are the "first step in the process" of becoming a militant, playing a significant social role for people on the margins of society, said Michael Taarnby, a Danish researcher who has studied the recruitment of Islamic radicals in Europe.

Copyright © 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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