Iraq's divided leaders meet for the first time since March elections
Iraq's leaders met to try to break a political deadlock that has left Iraqis vulnerable to escalating violence, including two car bombings today.
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Political sources say although Iraqiya is publicly still insisting on the prime ministry, in closed-door negotiations they have shifted to demanding the presidency with expanded powers. Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani has been president in every Iraqi government since Saddam Hussein was toppled and the Kurds are unlikely to easily give up the post.Skip to next paragraph
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“We’ve been under tremendous pressure by the Americans in ... clearly asking President Talabani to step down,” says a Kurdish source close to the talks. He says both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have asked Mr. Talabani to step aside in recent phone calls.
Under a scenario in which Allawi would become president, the Kurds would likely be given the position of speaker of parliament – a role that would allow them some control over debate on some of the thorniest issues facing the country and involving the Kurds. The parliament elected eight months ago will have to try to resolve issues that include territories claimed by both Arabs and Kurds, and sharing of oil revenue.
Attempt to reignite sectarian violence?
The car bomb in Najaf detonated less than half a mile from the shrine of Imam Ali, one of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam. Like the string of car bombs that exploded last week in Shiite areas in Baghdad, it appeared designed to reignite sectarian violence by bringing Shiite militias out to fight Sunni extremist groups believed responsible for the ongoing attacks.
The car parked between tour buses of Iranian pilgrims in Najaf killed eight people, including two of the pilgrims, and injured 21 when it detonated, according to security officials.
In Karbala, also sacred to Shiites, a car bomb near the entrance to the city targeted another Iranian tour bus. Fourteen people, including five Iranian pilgrims were killed and 40 others were injured in that attack, security officials said. Karbala contains the tomb of the Imam Hussein, revered by Shiites as a rightful successor to the prophet Mohammed. His 7th-century martyrdom here has defined Shiite identity ever since.
Although Al Qaeda in Iraq and groups linked with it have claimed responsibility for most of the attacks on Shiites and on the church, many Iraqis believe feuding political parties are behind it.
“This is not terrorism – this is a political struggle between the parties. We have no government and no one is accountable,” said a shopkeeper in Najaf near the explosion.
Qassim Zain in Najaf, Sahar Issa, and Laith Hammoudi contributed to this report.