BAGHDAD, (AP) – Roadside bombs killed two U.S. soldiers and at least nine Iraqis Monday in Baghdad and surrounding areas, officials said.
The Americans died in a blast near a highway in the predominantly Shiite New Baghdad district, Iraqi police said. The area was the site of fierce clashes between U.S.-Iraqi forces and the Mahdi Army militia before a cease-fire with anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr earlier this year.
Another U.S. soldier was wounded in the 10 a.m. attack, the U.S. military said. It gave no further details on the deaths.
At least 4,131 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Meanwhile, Iraqi leaders remain deadlocked in talks over a power-sharing dispute that is blocking U.S.-backed provincial elections. The disagreement over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk forced parliamentary officials to delay a planned vote on the provincial elections bill until Tuesday, at the earliest.
The United States considers provincial elections, which are expected to redistribute power at the local level, essential to reconciling Iraq’s rival ethnic and religious communities.
But Kurds object to a measure that would equally distribute provincial council seats among Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen in Tamim province, which lies just south of their own semiautonomous region in Iraq’s north.
Kurds and their allies already hold a majority on the council, and fear the power-sharing proposal would dilute their power. They consider the province, whose capital is Kirkuk, part of their historic homeland and want to incorporate it into their own northern region.
Despite pressure from American and U.N. officials, high-level talks have so far failed to resolve the impasse, lawmakers said.
“Things are getting more difficult,” a prominent Kurdish lawmaker, Mahmoud Othman, told the AP on Monday. “It has not been possible to reach an agreement so far.”
The 275-member parliament had hoped to hold a vote during a special session Sunday. But the session never convened, because party and legislative leaders could not agree on a formula that would satisfy Arab, Kurdish and Turkoman demands.
The United Nations has recommended postponing elections in Tamim while allowing the vote to proceed in Iraq’s other 17 provinces.
Also on the parliament’s agenda is a supplementary budget that officials say must be passed before the lawmakers can begin their summer break, which had been due to start last Thursday.
Lawmakers briefly convened Monday, but lacked a quorum and adjourned.
Deputy parliamentary speaker Khalid al-Attiyah said lawmakers would meet again on Tuesday to “vote for a supplementary budget and the election law if an agreement can be reached.”
Another thorny point in the elections law opposed by Kurds is an article that replaces Kurdish security forces in Kirkuk with mostly Arab forces from other parts of the country.
The issue of Kirkuk, the center of Iraq’s vast northern oil fields, has emerged as a litmus test for the ability of Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian leaders to compromise on critical issues in the interest of national reconciliation.
The Kurds — traditionally staunch allies of the U.S. and majority Shiites in Iraq — also are at loggerheads with the central government over a new oil law, which would throw out previous deals between the local Kurdish administration and foreign companies.
The bitter debate has raised concern that the tensions in northern Iraq could spark a new cycle of violence and jeopardize recent security gains. That fear was underscored this week by a series of attacks in Baghdad and surrounding areas.
The deadliest attack Monday was against an Iraqi police patrol vehicle in Mahaweel, about 35 miles (60 kilometers) south of Baghdad that killed four policemen and three civilian bystanders, according to Iraqi police.
Another roadside bomb on Palestine Street, a major thoroughfare in Baghdad, killed two Iraqis — a soldier and a civilian — and wounded seven others, said Iraqi officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.