Shia-Kurd pact, a setback to U.S.

MANAMA, MARCH 11. The Shia dominated United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) and the Kurdish parties have arrived at an understanding that would allow them to form a coalition government once Parliament convenes on March 16.

The UIA had won 140 seats. With the 75 seats, which the Kurdish alliance has secured, it can form a coalition government that would have the mandatory two-thirds majority in the transitional National Assembly. Under the deal, which is likely to be formalised by Sunday, the Shias have agreed to hold talks on the return of around 100,000 displaced Kurds into northern oil city of Kirkuk once the government is formed, a senior Kurdish official said.

Two steps

Many Kurds had been displaced following the settlement of large number of Arabs in northern Iraq by the government of former Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein. Talks would also begin on formally designating Kirkuk as a Kurdish city in the new constitution, which the new assembly would write over the next few months.

"As for Kirkuk, we agreed to solve the issue in two steps. In the first step, the new government is committed to normalising the situation in Kirkuk, the other step regarding annexing Kirkuk to Kurdistan is to be left until the writing of the constitution," said Fuad Masoum, a member of the Kurdish coalition.

Ali Al-Dabagh, a member of the Shia political council said that, "We agreed with the Kurds that these two issues are to be solved through the government and they agreed on this and they demanded that things to be settled as soon as possible. We told them that the issues will be discussed as soon as the central government is formed."

Analysts point out that the development is a setback for the American plans as the alliance would effectively remove the influence of the pro-U.S. interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, either in government formation or in writing the constitution. Mr. Allawi's Iraqiyah slate has won only 40 seats in the 275-member Assembly.

Mr. Allawi, in recent weeks, had been negotiating with the Kurdish alliance as well as sections of the UIA, to acquire a prominent foothold in the new government. The transitional Assembly will appoint a President, two Vice-Presidents and an executive Prime Minister.

Abdul Aziz Hakim, who heads the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) — a core constituent of the UIA, has declared that the U.S. will not be allowed to build any military bases in Iraq.

Mosul blast

The death toll in the suicide bomb attack during the funeral of a Shia professor in Mosul has risen to 50. Nearly 80 persons were wounded when the suicide bomber entered a tent outside a mosque where crowds had gathered for the funeral on Thursday. The professor was known to represent the Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr in Mosul, but it was not clear whether the attack targeted Shias in general or the Sadr movement specifically.