After nine weeks of wrangling, Iraq has a new government

Click to follow
The Independent Online

After nine weeks of often acrimonious arguments and haggling following the national elections, the heads of the new government of Iraq are due to be announced today.

After nine weeks of often acrimonious arguments and haggling following the national elections, the heads of the new government of Iraq are due to be announced today.

The leaders of the main political parties say they have finally hammered out a deal under which the senior figures in the administration can be appointed. The veteran Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani is expected to be named president and Ibrahim Jaafari, a Shia, the prime minister. Adel Abdul Mahdi, another Shia, is said to have been given the post of one of the two vice-presidents. The second post will go either to the current President, Ghazi al-Yawar, or Adnan Pachachi, an elder statesman, both Sunnis.

Questions were raised immediately about the ability of the government actually to govern, with continuing and widespread violence across the country. American and Iraqi government forces were engaged in fierce fighting with insurgents east of Baghdad at Diyala and one of the senior commanders of the Iraqi army was kidnapped. Brigadier General Jalal Mohammed Saleh, in charge of a specialised anti-insurgency unit, was abducted, along with four of his bodyguards, by insurgents as he left his home in the Mansour district of west Baghdad. Gunmen also shot dead Salim Hilai, a senior member of the provincial council in Babil, and a Sunni cleric, Hilal Karim, was killed in a drive-by shooting as he entered a mosque in the suburb of New Baghdad. Salim Ibrahim, a Kurdistan Democratic Party official was killed in the northern city of Mosul.

The insurgency group al-Qa'ida in Iraq, led by the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al- Zarqawi, posted a video on an Islamic website yesterday of a captured Iraqi soldier being beheaded. Another militant group, the Army of Ansar al-Sunna, said it shot dead an Iraqi police officer for "spying" on insurgents. Four US soldiers have been killed and more than 40 wounded in the past four days, taking the US military's death toll in Iraq to 1,539 since the beginning of the war in March 2003.

According to Iraqi government figures, 6,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed and 16,000 injured in the past two years. But other estimates compiled by international organisations say the actual figure may be as high as 100,000.

US commanders maintain that the insurgents are running out of steam and ordinary Iraqis are fighting back. However, both American and government forces have been coming under more sustained rather than hit-and-run attacks. A gun battle yesterday, in which two US and an Iraqi soldier were killed, began when guerrillas attacked a convoy and continued the engagement even after reinforcements were called in.

Major Richard Goldenberg, spokesman for the 42nd Infantry Division, said: "The insurgents were fighting from prepared firing positions."

On Saturday, 35 American soldiers and 12 Iraqi inmates were injured when insurgents attacked Abu Ghraib jail west of Baghdad using suicide bombers followed up with mortars. The battle lasted for more than an hour.

Inmates at another prison, Camp Bucca, in the British-controlled south, but run by the US, hurled rocks and set tents on fire. Four guards and 12 prisoners were wounded before the riot was brought under control, the US Army said.

A French reporter held hostage in Iraq is beginning her fourth month in captivity. Florence Aubenas and her Iraqi guide, Hussein Hanoun, were last seen on 5 January leaving a Baghdad hotel. The first public sign of life came 1 March when a video emerged showing her pleading for help.

"There remains hope," her mother, Jacqueline Aubenas, said in Paris. "But it has been far, far too long."