BAGHDAD -- Iraq's dominant Shi'ite-led alliance set a mid-March deadline to form a government, prodded to action yesterday by spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who demanded progress after more than a month of post-election haggling.
Members of the United Iraqi Alliance, the big winner in the Jan. 30 elections, met in central Baghdad and agreed to try to form a government and convene the 275-member National Assembly by March 15 after Sistani demanded that they stop bickering.
In another development, authorities in Baghdad said yesterday that Sheik Saad Kamil, an imam associated with rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was shot and killed by gunmen in two cars as he drove to a mosque in the Doura section of the city, The New York Times reported today.
In a separate attack in the area yesterday, the director of the Islamic Relief Committee, Abdul Moneem Abdul Amir, was shot and killed, according to the Interior Ministry.
Also yesterday, a roadside bomb killed three Iraqi Army soldiers in the Bab al-Mu'adam area of Baghdad early in the day, according to Wisam Muhsin, an official at Kindi hospital. Four other soldiers were injured.
In the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf, Sistani appealed for unity among the alliance's 140 parliamentary deputies after two of the alliance's leaders dropped out to protest the group's inability to barter a deal with other parties -- including the Kurds, who control 75 seats -- to form a coalition government.
Sistani met with one of the few Sunnis in the alliance, Sheik Fawaz al-Jarba, and asked him to tell the alliance that it should ''unite and to form the new government as soon as possible and not to delay this issue any longer, and that the interests of Iraq and Iraqis should be their first priority," a statement said.
The assembly, elected Jan. 30, has twice put off convening, prompting the two alliance leaders to drop out -- Ali Hashim al-Youshaa and Abdul-Karim Mahmoud al-Mohammedawi, who heads the Iraqi group Hezbollah.
Yesterday, CNN broadcast what seemed to be new photographs of a Jordanian-born militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is accused in some of the bombings, kidnappings, and beheadings throughout Iraq. A series of photos show the man sitting alone against a white wall or seated next to two men. The authenticity of the photographs could not be verified.