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Kurds, Shi'ites agree to split Cabinet, include some Sunnis

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's new Kurdish and Shi'ite Arab political leaders agreed to a Cabinet split yesterday, giving six posts to the holdout Sunni Arab minority, top politicians involved in the negotiations said.

Who those Sunnis would be remained publicly unresolved, as did other final elements of the agreement itself.

Armored US military convoys shuttled political party chiefs back and forth among their houses and offices in Baghdad's tree-lined, concrete-bunkered Green Zone for daylong negotiations, under steady US and Iraqi pressure to close the deal.

Shi'ite, Kurdish, and Sunni negotiators said early today that the sessions brought a breakthrough on how the 30-plus seat Cabinet would be divided among factions but that selection of appointees was continuing. The day ended with another pledge from party leaders that an announcement on the makeup of Iraq's new government was imminent, nearly three months after national elections.

Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari appears ''confident enough to finish the job in two days' time," said Hoshyar Zebari, who is slated to remain foreign minister. Zebari cautioned: ''But take nothig for granted."

Jaafari adviser Laith Kubba and other negotiators said the Cabinet can be presented tomorrow for National Assembly approval. Iraqis elected the 275-seat assembly Jan. 30. The coalition government being assembled from among the assembly's members is responsible for creating a new constitution, but haggling over top posts has exhausted more than one-fourth of its mandated 11-month term.

Iraq's interim government, which was appointed in late June, is staying on in the meantime. US officials are pushing Iraqi leaders to get the elected government in place so that it can address problems such as a resurgence of insurgent attacks this month.

Politicians said yesterday's accord gives Shi'ites 17 Cabinet posts, with eight going to Kurds, six to Sunni Arabs, and one to a Christian.

Absent from the proposed Cabinet was interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's bloc, which had asked for at least four ministries.

A coalition of Shi'ites, who make up a majority of Iraq's population, won the most votes in the January elections, and an alliance of Kurds finished second. The minority Sunni Arabs, their longtime grip on power broken with the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003, largely boycotted the elections and received only enough votes for 17 assembly seats.

Iraqi leaders have said they want to bring Sunnis into the government and out of the Sunni-led insurgency. ''The offer is very, very generous, taking into account they have not participated in elections and some of them stood on the sidelines," said Zebari, a Kurd.

Finding Sunnis acceptable to all sides has been difficult.

Some negotiators yesterday said Cabinet nominees put forth by the Sunnis included candidates whose association with Hussein's government made them unacceptable. Other negotiators stressed, however, that those chosen for the cabinet had to be seen as representative by disaffected Sunnis.

Kubba, al-Jaafari's adviser, said the Sunni nominees for their six ministries ''are from different geographical and political backgrounds. The diversity is real."

A Sunni negotiator, Saleh Mutlak, said he was happy with what looked to be the end stage of talks. ''I think we are all right," he said.

Mutlak said early today that Shi'ites and Sunnis had moved ahead to discussing demands for Sunni inclusion in the military and fairness in the expected purge of veterans of Hussein's forces.

Also yesterday, the Associated Press reported, Iraqi militants threatening to kill three Romanian journalists and an American hostage issued a new video, extending the deadline until today for Romania to withdraw its troops, Al-Jazeera television said. Sorin Miscoci of Romania and Mohammed Monaf, an Iraqi-American, were seen in the video wearing orange jumpsuits. The two, along with reporters Marie Jeanne Ion of Prima TV and Ovidiu Ohanesian of the Romania Libera newspaper, were kidnapped in Baghdad March 28.

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