The Bush administration says it is prodding Iraqi politicians to form a government, but insists the process must be controlled by Iraqis themselves.

The State Department confirms that, in recent days, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has spoken with Iraqi leaders representing the country's Kurdish and Shi'ite populations about the formation of a new Cabinet. But State Department spokesman Adam Ereli says there are limits to what the United States can and should do in pressuring Iraq's political process to move forward.

"This is not a question of Washington, or any outside power, telling the Iraqis who they should choose for their government," he said. And any such interference would backfire. First of all, it is against our principles, but second of all, it would not work. For this [new Iraqi] government to be effective, to be credible, to be accepted by Iraqis, it has to be chosen by Iraqis."

Delays in naming a Cabinet and uncertainty over Iraq's political future appear to have emboldened insurgents, who have stepped up attacks with deadly results. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told VOA that, in order to defeat the insurgency, Iraq must not, as he put it, "backslide" on the political front.

But State Department spokesman Ereli insists the picture in Iraq is not all bleak. "Let us keep it in perspective. You have had elections [in Iraq]. You have a transitional national assembly. You have a presidency council. We are making progress on the security front," he said. "We are looking at ways, with international coordination, that the international community can support Iraqi reconstruction. And it is complicated, and it is difficult, but they certainly are not stagnant or dead in the water [at an absolute impasse]."

Monday, Iraqi insurgents attacked the country's petroleum infrastructure, setting fire to a pipeline in the north, one day after a wave of bomb attacks killed at least 22 people and wounded dozens of others.