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Political Talks; Violence Continue in Iraq


Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki continued Saturday to try to form a government of national unity, in the hope that it will lead the way to stability.

Nouri al-Maliki had been expected to announce his new cabinet Thursday, but disagreements among political leaders on who should head the key ministries of oil, interior and defense have delayed a consensus.

Also, late Friday, a small but influential Shi'ite party, the Fadhila, or Virtue, Party, withdrew from political talks, removing the support of its 15 deputies from the main United Iraqi Alliance bloc. In part, the withdrawal was to protest Mr. al-Maliki's failure to award the oil portfolio to one of its members.

Fadhila spokesman Sabah al-Saedi said the party is pulling out because it feels the selection of ministers is driven by partisan self-interest and U.S. pressure. The party has now threatened to set up an opposition bloc in parliament.

Meanwhile, the bloodshed continues. Police found the bodies of at least five Iraqis killed in apparent sectarian violence. An American soldier was also killed Saturday, when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle in south Baghdad.

In Washington, anti-war activists filled a section of the National Mall with empty combat boots and civilian shoes to represent the more than 2,400 U.S. troops and the thousands of Iraqis killed in Iraq.

Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq who has become a vociferous voice against the war, addressed a crowd of about 150 who had gathered on the mall. "It is so hard for me especially to see my son's empty boots. And those empty boots represent an empty heart. There is a place in my heart and soul that will never be filled again; it will always be empty because Casey is missing. But we are also here to say we want an end to this; we do not want any more empty boots. We do not want any more of our children coming home in flag-draped coffins."

Recent polls show President Bush's approval rating sinking to its lowest level since he took office five years ago, with many of those surveyed citing his handling of the Iraq war.

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