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Iraq's Allawi forming coalition

BAGHDAD -- Iyad Allawi, the secular interim prime minister, said yesterday he is putting together a coalition to try to hold onto the job in the next government and block the candidate of the dominant Shi'ite political alliance. Kurdish parties also weighed in with demands for top posts, setting up a possible showdown over the role of religion in a new Iraq.

Allawi's call for an inclusive coalition that would attract minority Sunni Arabs who form the core of the insurgency was made as support for Dr. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the leading Shi'ite candidate, began slipping in his United Iraq Alliance.

A day after Jaafari, 58, was nominated for the post of prime minister by the clergy-backed alliance, a Shi'ite political group that supports his one-time challenger, Ahmed Chalabi, threatened to withdraw its support. The Shi'ite Political Council demanded that the alliance make amends after forcing Chalabi to end his pursuit of the prime minister's post by nominating one of the council's members for the largely ceremonial post of Iraqi president.

But the Kurdish coalition controlling 75 of the 275 seats in the National Assembly has long taken for granted that the alliance, which has 140 seats, will give the presidency to one of their leaders -- Jalal Talabani.

''Regarding the nomination for the presidential post, no names were presented officially and we are running nonofficial discussions with all parties, especially with the Kurdish officials here in Baghdad," Jaafari spokesman Abdul Razaq al-Kadhimi said.

A two-thirds majority of the assembly is required for approval of the presidency -- the first step in a complicated process of filling the top positions. For Jaafari to become prime minister, he must win the approval of his own Shi'ite alliance, including Chalabi's supporters, and 44 additional legislators.

In forming his new coalition to unseat Jaafari, Allawi asked the Sunni Arab minority, which mostly boycotted the Jan. 30 elections, to play a role in the new government. Such a move could go a long way toward helping deflate the insurgency, mostly thought to be made up of Sunnis who once belonged to Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party.

Also yesterday, US-funded Iraqi state television aired what it said were the confessions of a man claiming to be a Syrian intelligence officer and a group of Iraqi insurgents he purportedly trained to behead people and carry out attacks against American and Iraqi troops.

In a detailed 15-minute confession broadcast by al-Iraqiya TV, the man, identified as Lieutenant Anas Ahmed al-Essa, 30, said his group was recruited to ''cause chaos in Iraq . . . to bar America from reaching Syria."

''We received all the instructions from Syrian intelligence," said the man, who appeared in the propaganda video along with 10 Iraqis who said they had also been recruited by Syrian intelligence officers.

Later, al-Iraqiya aired another round of interviews with men it said were Sudanese and Egyptians who also trained in Syria to carry out attacks in Iraq.

Syrian officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the claims, which were not possible to authenticate independently.

Meanwhile, clashes between US troops and insurgents in the so-called Sunni triangle killed six Iraqis and left dozens injured in Heet, according to Dr. Mohammed al-Hadithi.

In Haqlaniyah, 135 miles northwest of the capital, US forces and Iraqi troops fought insurgents throughout the day, the military said. US aircraft fired cannon rounds and dropped bombs to help a Marine patrol that came under small arms and heavy machine-gun fire. The military said there were no American casualties.

Elsewhere, a US soldier was killed when assailants set off a bomb near Tuz, 105 miles north of Baghdad.

In Baghdad, gunmen assassinated the director of the Iraqi Trade Ministry, Saad Abbas Hassan, as he drove down a road, police said. His car smashed into a shop, killing a child. And in Mosul, insurgents set off a car bomb, killing two people and wounding 14, the US military said.

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