BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Shiite leaders have begun talks with Sunni and Kurdish politicians on a proposed national unity government, a Shiite official said Wednesday. The talks began amid a spate of sectarian killings that complicate the crucial talks. There was no news, meanwhile, on the fate if two male German engineers kidnapped Tuesday near Beiji, 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Baghdad, by gunmen wearing military uniforms. The fate of American journalist Jill Carroll, who was kidnapped Jan. 7 in Baghdad, also remains unknown.
Carroll’s kidnappers have demanded U.S. forces release all Iraqi women in their custody or they will kill the 28-year-old American. Iraq’s Justice Ministry, which coordinates with the Americans on releases, said six of the nine women in detention would be freed this week, possibly Thursday.
The U.S. military said the cases of several female Iraqi detainees had been reviewed, adding a batch of Iraqis in military custody will soon be freed, according to Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, spokesman for American detainee operations.
The government negotiations follow heightened tensions in northern Baghdad, particularly the mainly Sunni Arab neighborhood of Toubji, where dozens of armed men dressed in Interior Ministry police uniforms killed three Sunni males and abducted more than 20 on Monday.
A prominent Sunni Arab cleric Karim Jassim Mohammed, 39, was shot dead Wednesday by police at a checkpoint heading into the northern city of Samarra, said police Capt. Laith Mohammed. A policeman was also gunned down in Baghdad’s Sadr City, said police.
“We don’t know who is with us or who is against us,” said the slain cleric’s uncle, Khalid Abdullah, 60. “The masked gunmen are slaughtering us as are the government (security forces.)”
Iraqi TV journalist Mahmoud Zaal was killed on Tuesday while filming intense fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents in the volatile western Iraqi city of Ramadi, said Thaer Ahmed, deputy director of the Baghdad Television station where Zaal worked. The circumstances surrounding the killing were not immediately clear.
The United Iraqi Alliance, the main Shiite bloc in the parliament, started talks Tuesday with the Iraqi Accordance Front, a group of prominent Sunni Arab parties, said Shiite lawmaker Baha al-Aaraji.
The alliance suggested four nominees to be the next prime minister in the government to be announced at the end of negotiations, which could take weeks, said al-Aaraji, a supporter of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and member of a seven-man committee forming Shiite political policy.
The four include current premier, Ibrahim al-Jaafari; Adil Abdul-Mahdi of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq; nuclear physicist Hussein al-Shahrastani; and Nadim al-Jabiri of the Fadhila party, a religious group whose spiritual leader is al-Sadr’s late father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr.
Ali al-Adeeb, a senior official from al-Jaafari’s Dawa Party, warned against choosing a prime minister who will not listen to the views of other government members. “We don’t want a prime ministerial candidate who decides policies on his own but rather sticks to the alliance’s declared policies,” said al-Adeeb.
Shiite leaders said the talks with Sunnis have not yet delved into key Sunni concerns, particularly over new constitution, such as provisions to transform Iraq into a federal state and ban key Baathists from government jobs. Iraq’s most powerful Shiite politician, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, has said the Shiites would oppose major concessions on some key Sunni demands.
Abbas al-Bayati, a Shiite Turkoman member of the Shiite alliance, said his bloc will listen to the Sunni concerns. “We suspect there are demands behind all the criticism,” al-Bayati said.
Sunni religious and political leaders have blamed Shiite-backed security services for the Toubji incident, demanded government action and urged Sunnis to defend themselves against future attacks.
Adil al-Lami, executive director of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, said 25 unspecified complaints were received and responded to by the commission on Tuesday.
The complainants have two days to respond, after which time the commission will reconsider their findings during a 10-day period or stick to their initial decisions, which will see the final election results certified immediately.