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Wednesday, April 12, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Iraq Notebook

Shiite rivals stand in way of forming government

Bitter rivalry between two powerful clans for leadership of Iraq's Shiite Muslims snarled efforts Tuesday to agree on the next prime minister, the key issue that is blocking a national unity government.

Neither side showed any sign of compromise over Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, leaving negotiations deadlocked four months after elections for a new Parliament.

Sunni Arabs and Kurds blame al-Jaafari, a Shiite, for the rise in sectarian violence bloodying Iraq. Al-Jaafari repeatedly has refused to step aside. And his Dawa party and his key backer, radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, remained firm in their support for him. Shiite negotiators planned to meet again today, but officials said there was no hint an agreement was near.

Shiite officials said his supporters fear removing him would bolster the position of the biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

That party is led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, whose family has long been a rival of al-Sadr's clan for leadership of the Shiite community.

Baghdad, Iraq

5 U.S. soldiers killed; toll now 31 for April

The U.S. military reported the deaths of five more soldiers, including three killed Tuesday in a roadside bombing north of the capital. The latest casualties raised the U.S. death toll so far this month to at least 31 — the same for all of March, according to an Associated Press count.

Violence took at least 23 lives Tuesday. A car bombing killed five people, and three others died when a bomb exploded on a minibus, both attacks in Shiite areas of the capital, police said.

Police also found the bodies of 24 people — apparent victims of sectarian death squads. Most of the bodies were found in Baghdad, but it was unclear when they died, police said.

Cairo, Egypt

Iraq to boycott meeting over Mubarak remarks

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Iraq's government said Tuesday it would not attend a gathering of Arab foreign ministers meeting to discuss the war-torn nation in a protest of remarks by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who said Iraqi Shiites are more loyal to Iran than their own country.

The boycott of today's planned meeting in Cairo indicated a deepening rift between Iraq's Shiite and Kurdish-led government and Sunni-led Arab nations.

Egypt said the meeting would go on despite the boycott. The ministers aim to forge a new Arab strategy on Iraq that includes reopening the Arab embassies in Iraq closed since Saddam Hussein's fall in April 2003, a top demand by Baghdad.

Aldershot, England

Opponent of war barred from explaining why

A British air-force doctor being court-martialed for refusing to go to Iraq last year was barred Tuesday from explaining why he believed the Iraq war was illegal.

Australian-born Flight Lt. Malcolm Kendall-Smith, 37, told his superiors in May 2005 that he would not go to Iraq because he believed the war was illegal and that to go there would violate British and international law.

Judge advocate Jack Bayliss ruled in pretrial hearings that British forces were in Iraq in 2005 with the permission of the United Nations Security Council and an elected interim Iraqi government.

The trial is the first of its kind in Britain over Iraq.

Washington

Retired general's comments criticized

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top military leader on Tuesday issued their strongest rebuttal to date of recent comments by retired generals criticizing Iraq war planning and calling on Rumsfeld to resign.

In particular, Rumsfeld said he didn't recall retired Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold raising any objections to the war planning when he was working in the Pentagon for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Newbold, in Time magazine, said he was outspoken in his criticism before the war, saying the "zealots' rationale for war made no sense." From 2000 until October 2002, Newbold served as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs. The United States invaded Iraq in March 2003.

At least two other retired generals have raised similar concerns in recent weeks about the administration's war policies.

To date, President Bush has rejected calls for Rumsfeld to step down. Meanwhile, the State Department invited cameras to record the first meeting between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Samir Shakir Mahumb Al-Sumaida'ie, Iraq's first full-fledged post-invasion ambassador to Washington, D.C.

Compiled from The Associated Press and Reuters

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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