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Iraq Plans to Open New Parliament Earlier Than Scheduled


Iraq's main political factions have agreed to open the first session of the country's new parliament earlier than scheduled, a move the U.S. ambassador to Iraq calls "a good sign." Meanwhile, amid further violence in Iraq, U.S. lawmakers continue to debate American involvement there.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, coming out of a meeting of Iraqi political leaders, gave an upbeat assessment to CNN's Late Edition program.

"The meeting was a very positive step," said Zalmay Khalilzad. "It was a good day today in Baghdad."

First of all, he said, the leaders decided to open the country's new National Assembly, on March 16 rather than the originally scheduled date of March 19.

He added, he is optimistic that the Iraqi leaders will also work out other crucial issues of forming a government of national unity.

"There was an agreement among the leaders to meet continuously, as of the day after tomorrow, at 10 o'clock, until there is an agreement on the government, including prime minister, and the process of decision-making for the new government," he said. "And, lastly, which was very important, there was agreement by all of the leaders of the factions that there is no redline, in terms of the inclusion of any faction, in the formation of the government."

The U.S. ambassador's comments came as deadly violence continued in Iraq.

At least 62 people were killed and nearly 250 wounded in one of the bloodiest days in weeks in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

In the deadliest attacks Sunday, police say 46 people were killed and more than 200 wounded when up to six car bombs ripped through Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City.

Authorities say the apparently coordinated blasts hit crowded markets in Sadr City shortly before sunset.

Sunni insurgents have sought to spark sectarian violence by repeatedly targeting the majority Shi'ite population, while Shi'ites have been blamed for reprisal killings.

Earlier today, at least 11 people were killed in insurgent attacks across Baghdad. Six of the fatalities occurred when a police patrol was hit by a roadside bomb.

In a separate incident, insurgents fired on a car, killing its three occupants, and a mortar shell struck a building in an eastern district, killing two people.

Democratic U.S. Senator Joseph Biden told the NBC television program Meet the Press that Americans will lose patience, if Iraqis don't take some of the responsibility for quelling the violence.

"We can't want peace in Iraq more than the Iraqis want it," said Joseph Biden. "We can't want it more than they want it. And, if they don't step up to the ball [take responsibility], we're going to be gone."

Senator Biden said he believes the window of opportunity for Iraqi politicians to make progress is six-to-eight weeks.

"If they don't have a Constitution in place by this summer, that is viewed as a uniting document, where everybody signs onto it, it's game over [it's over]," he said.

Republican Senator George Allen said he agrees that a unity government should be formed, as soon as possible, but he said it should not be rushed.

"So, the sooner, obviously, the better," said Senator Allen. "I don't want to have some deadline, [and threaten], 'if you don't get it done by June first, then we're pulling out,' or it's a failure."

He added that the United States should work harder to involve other countries in helping to ensure a positive outcome in Iraq.

"The point of the matter is, we need to pressure and try to get others in that region, as well as other countries outside of the region, to really tell them what the stakes are," he said.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad, three co-defendants in the trial of Saddam Hussein, have denied any involvement in a mass killing in 1982 in the town of Dujail.