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Nine people killed in Iraq clashes

At least nine people were killed as Iraq's political leaders failed to reach an agreement on who should head the key ministries.

india Updated: May 27, 2006 16:08 IST

At least nine people were killed in Iraq on Saturday as the country's political leaders again failed to reach agreement on who should head the key defence and interior ministries.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had pledged earlier this week that the appointments would be made by Saturday, but a parliament source said Friday that the rival factions could not agree.

"Because there is no agreement on the appointments the (parliament) session scheduled for Saturday... will not go forward," said the source.

Parliament was expected to reconvene on Sunday, but there was no indication that the posts would be filled during the session.

The two ministries have been without permanent heads since the December election and Maliki has been unable to secure a compromise despite forming the rest of his broad-based 37-member cabinet a week ago.

Rivalries among Iraq's sectarian and ethnic groups have prevented a consensus on the security ministers, who will be charged with reining in the sectarian and insurgent violence plaguing the country.

Violence was especially heavy on Saturday in the restive city of Baquba north of Baghdad, where seven people were killed -- including five workers gunned down in a metal workshop -- and a human rights activist was wounded.

Clashes erupted between insurgents and an Iraqi army patrol in the capital's western Al-Jamia area, leaving one soldier and a civilian wounded.

A spokesman for British forces in Basra also said 10 suspected insurgents were arrested in the southern city for possessing automatic rifles and explosives.

Sectarian violence in particular has soared since the February bombing of an important Shiite shrine, which has been followed by thousands of deaths in tit-for-tat revenge killings.

The interior ministry, seen as a Shiite bastion, has been accused of harbouring some death squads involved in the attacks, making the choice of a new head for the ministry an especially sensitive issue.

On Thursday Maliki had said: "all points of view of the political blocs have come together and the names of the candidates will be presented on Saturday," but talks appear to have stalled.

Maliki has also to appoint a minister of state for national security.

In the days since he was confirmed as prime minister, Maliki has set security out as a high priority, promising to create a special security force for the violent capital and to select independents for the security ministries.

He also said Iraqi security forces would soon take on more responsibility for maintaining order in the country from US-led forces, which have occupied the country since the March 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, US President George W Bush's closest ally, wrapped up a two-day visit to Washington with a plea for countries to bury their differences on Iraq and rally behind the new government.

"This should be a moment of reconciliation not only in Iraq but in the international community," Blair said in a speech on foreign policy on Friday.

"The war split the world," he said. "The struggle of Iraqis for democracy should unite it."

Both Bush and Blair, meeting at a summit on Thursday, admitted that mistakes had been made in Iraq, but refused to set a timetable for the withdrawal of their troops.

The United States has some 133,000 soldiers in Iraq and Britain 8,000.