Atul Aneja

Al-Sadr has set new conditions for a tie-up with the Sunnis

DUBAI: Iraq's Sunni, Shia and Kurdish communities are discussing the formation of the new government, but are still far from achieving a breakthrough.

Top Sunni politicians, Adnan al-Dulaimi and Tarek al-Hashmi, who are part of the Iraqi Accord Front (IAF) are leading a delegation for talks with Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister, and Shia leader, Ibrahim Jaffari has also held talks with Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani. It is, however, not yet clear whether a three-way meeting of Sunnis, Shias and Kurds has taken place.

The focus of the dialogue appears to be the formation of national unity government, in which the Sunni community would also feature prominently. The Americans have been backing this move, in the hope that political accommodation of the Sunnis, who have been spearheading the armed resistance, would result in a drop in violence, thus allowing a sustained U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. President Jalal Talabani, who is of Kurdish origin, is also pursuing this track.

Last week, top Shia leader Abdulaziz Al Hakim held talks with Mr. Talabani and conveyed the impression that his pro-Iran group - the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) was inclined to forge a national political coalition.

However, there has been a setback to this move, as another Shia group, led by Moqtada Al Sadr has set new conditions for a tie-up with the Sunnis. Arabic daily Al Hayat has reported that Mr. Al Sadr has demanded that secular Sunnis represented in the Iraqiyah list of the former Prime Minister, Iyad Alllawi, be excluded from any political arrangement. Mr. Allawi's party includes some of the former Ba'ath party functionaries that Mr. Sadr's group has strongly opposed.

Meanwhile, the Americans, fixated on an "exit strategy," have been advocating the inclusion of the Sunnis in the Iraqi security establishment, which has now been dominated by SCIRI. U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace, who spent the new year in Iraq, has said the Iraqi Government needs to reach out more to people, especially the minority Sunni community. The armed wing of the SCIRI has been accused of fighting street battles with Sunni guerilla groups, thereby threatening civil war conditions and undermining chances of an early American exit from Iraq.

An international team of election experts arrived in Baghdad on Monday, to review the results of the parliamentary poll.

Preliminary results indicate that the UIA could get 130 seats - short of the 184 seats needed to have a two-thirds majority in the 275-member Assembly. The Kurds could get about 55 seats, the main Sunni Arab groups about 50 and the Iraqiyah party around 25.

There has been an assassination attempt on the life of the Turkish Ambassador to Iraq. Gunmen attacked the envoy's convoy on the Baghdad airport road, injuring him slightly.