BAGHDAD -- Sunni Muslim politicians dropped their demand yesterday to include former members of Saddam Hussein's party in Iraq's new Cabinet in a bid to get more ministries. The Sunni minority is believed to be the backbone of the insurgency and many blame the impasse in forming a new government for a resurgence in violence.
As leaders of Iraq's main Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish factions continued their backroom wheeling and dealing, Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari again put off his long-promised Cabinet announcement.
The National Dialogue Council, a coalition of 10 Sunni factions, initially requested 16 Cabinet seats. It submitted a list of candidates Sunday that included former members of Hussein's Ba'ath party, said Jawad al-Maliki, a senior member of Jaafari's United Iraqi Alliance. But when that was rejected, they dropped the demand, he told reporters.
Alliance members, who control 148 seats in the 275-member National Assembly, refuse to give any top posts to members of the party that carried out Hussein's suppression of the majority Shi'ites and Kurds.
The issue is just one of many obstacles that have bogged down negotiations since the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections. Most Sunnis either boycotted the vote or stayed away for fear of being attacked.
Jaafari could present his Cabinet to parliament as soon as today, some alliance members said. But such forecasts have repeatedly proven wrong.
Jaafari has had to balance demands by his predecessor, Ayad Allawi, for at least four ministries for his party, including a senior government post and a deputy premiership. Much of the discussion has focused on the Defense Ministry, which most agree should go to a Sunni, but which Allawi has argued should go to one from his Iraqi List party.
On Sunday, alliance lawmakers said Jaafari had decided to abandon attempts to include Allawi's party and offer Sunni representatives two more Cabinet seats, for a total of six.
Members of the Iraqi List, which controls 40 parliamentary seats, said the party had not been officially informed of the development.
''I don't see how it can be a national unity government without our participation," Iraqi List legislator Hussein al-Sadr said.
If Allawi's party is excluded, a spokesman for the Sunni coalition, Khalaf al-Aryan, said it would insist on at least seven ministries plus a deputy premiership. ''If Allawi does take part, we'll negotiate and take less," he said.
Further complicating negotiations, a rival Sunni coalition entered the fray yesterday, saying it too should have a place in the Cabinet. The Council of Arab and Sunni Negotiators and the National Dialogue Council both include groups that boycotted the elections and could help open talks with insurgents.
With attacks on the increase, there has been intense pressure to end the political bickering and form a government that can take charge of efforts to suppress the violence.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdish Democratic Party, on Friday to ask him to finish forming a government as soon as possible, two State Department officials said yesterday.
Shi'ite lawmakers have accused some of their Kurdish allies of stalling negotiations in a bid to force out Jaafari, who automatically loses his position if he fails to form a government by May 7. Some Kurdish legislators want a more secular prime minister and one who favors a federal government that would give strong autonomy to the Kurdish north.
The CIA's top weapons inspector in Iraq said yesterday that the hunt for weapons of mass destruction has ''gone as far as feasible" and has found nothing, formally closing an investigation into the purported programs of Saddam Hussein that were used to justify the 2003 invasion.
''After more than 18 months, the WMD investigation and debriefing of the WMD-related detainees has been exhausted," wrote Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, in an addendum to the final report he issued last fall. Duelfer said there is no purpose in keeping many of the detainees who are in custody because of their knowledge on Iraq's weapons, although he did not provide any details about the current number.
In other developments yesterday:
Three roadside bombs aimed at US military convoys exploded in the capital, including one that killed an American soldier, said Lieutenant Colonel Clifford Kent of the US Third Infantry Division. At least 1,569 members of the US military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
A suicide car bomb exploded in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, wounding two civilians, the US military said. A 20-year-old Iraqi died at a US military hospital of injuries he suffered two weeks ago while attacking coalition forces.
Militants also launched two attacks aimed at Iraq's oil industry in the north, setting fire to pumps near Kirkuk and opening fire on police guarding a convoy of tanker trucks. Two police officers were wounded and three insurgents arrested in a gun battle over the convoy, police said.