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Negotiations Continue Over Formation of New Iraqi Government

In Iraq, intense negotiations continue over the formation of a new government, nearly two months after the country's parliamentary elections. The lack of progress may oblige leaders to postpone the next session of parliament, which was inaugurated last week.

Leaders of various parliamentary blocs say they are trying to reach agreement on the new Iraqi government in order to reconvene parliament Saturday.

But a negotiator for the Sunni group, Mishan al-Juburi, says many issues have yet to be resolved.

Mr. Mishan says a major issue is whether Iraq's resources, in particular petroleum revenues, will be controlled by the central government or by the regional authorities. Another, he says, is delineating the borders of the Kurdish region, which has enjoyed considerable autonomy for more than a decade. Finally, he says agreement has yet to be reached on the distribution of ministerial portfolios in the new cabinet.

A variety of sources say that Shia political groups, which won more than half of the seats in January's elections, are expected to receive some 16 ministerial posts, while Kurdish parties, which won the second largest number of seats, would receive a half-dozen portfolios.

Sources say that Sunni negotiators insist that their group, which won less than one-fifth of the seats in the assembly because of a boycott by many supporters, should receive a number of posts equal to that of the Kurds.

Smaller groups, such as the Turkoman and Assyrians, are to receive one ministerial post each.

Some reports say agreement has been reached on the senior government positions. This would allocate the presidency to the Kurdish group, the post of prime minister to a Shia leader, and the speaker-of-parliament's position to a Sunni. Four vice presidential and deputy prime minister's posts are also to be distributed among these groups.

Iraqi leaders say they are taking pains with the negotiations because they want to include as many of Iraq's diverse groups as possible in the country's first democratically elected government in recent history. They say all Iraqis should feel represented in the body that is to draft a new constitution later this year.

However, many Iraqis complain about the delay, saying that after two years of interim administrations following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, an elected government is urgently needed to tackle the lack of security and basic services in the country. Senior religious leaders are also calling for a rapid conclusion to the negotiations saying the uncertainty is bad for the country.