AFP[1] and AP[2] reporters filed these stories on the same subject 25 minutes apart.  --  They report on the same facts, and do not formally contradict one another, but they leave very different impressions about prospects for the formation of a new Iraqi government.  --  AFP said Kurds had "refused a compromise," but AP said they were "near a final agreement."  --  AFP said Kurdish leaders were "insisting on changes," but AP said they were "working out final details."  --  Meanwhile, "negotiations dragged on," AFP said, though the way AP put it was that "further talks are slated."  --  AFP's headline was "Iraq Kurds Dent Hope for Imminent Deal on Government," but AP's was "Kurds Say They're Nearing Iraq Gov't Deal."  --  Perhaps "Iraq Kurds Dent Hope, Near Imminent Deal on Government" would sum up the situation -- unless one prefers "Iraq Kurds Near Hope, Dent Imminent Deal on Government," that is.  --  Another approach to the differences, of course, would be to note that the two stories are datelined very differently; the AFP reporter is writing from Kurdistan, the AP reporter from Baghdad.  --  The need to avoid the insolence of office by pleasing local authorities is certainly capable of influencing a news story's tone....




March 13, 2005 -- 7:33 p.m. ET

SALAHADDIN, Iraq -- Kurdish leaders have deflated hopes for the rapid formation of a government in Iraq as they refused to compromise on demands for joining a coalition with the country's powerful Shiite bloc.

As negotiations dragged on, violence claimed the lives of 19 Iraqis and two U.S. security contractors over the past 48 hours, while police made the grisly discovery of 12 rotting corpses south of Baghdad.

Six weeks after Iraq's milestone elections, Kurdish leaders are insisting on changes to a draft agreement setting out the terms for an alliance with the Shiite list, the biggest winner in the new parliament with 146 seats.

The delays mean Iraq could be without a functioning government well past the first session of the new 275-member national assembly scheduled to open Wednesday.

"There is progress, but the agreement still needs work and the participation of other political groups in the negotiations to form a government and enlarge its base," said Fuad Massum, one of four Kurds negotiating with the Shiites.

"The special character of this period we are entering necessitates the participation of different forces in the government, not just two or three."

His remarks opened the door to the possibility that the Kurds with an aversion to the religious character of the Shiite list were trying to force an opening for outgoing prime minister Iyad Allawi, whose list received only 40 seats but is still seeking a way to retain his job.

Representatives of the Shiite list said they did not want to speculate on the latest twist with the Kurds.

Kurdish negotiators said they would bring their revisions back to Baghdad for another round of talks with the Shiite list, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA).

The plodding negotiations have triggered a wave of criticism from Shiite religious leaders who have demanded the government be put in place to tackle the resistance behind daily attacks in the country.

The Kurdish negotiating team that had thrashed out a preliminary agreement with the Shiites presented the tentative deal Sunday to Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and members of Jalal al-Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

But Barzani hinted at dissatisfaction with the deal in an interview broadcast Friday, saying he wanted agreement now on Kurdish claims to the ethnically divided northern oil center of Kirkuk.

"We do not agree on postponing this matter until after the constitution, we must agree on the issue of Kirkuk now," he told Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television.

The UIA has sought out the Kurds, whose 77 assembly seats have given them the second largest bloc in parliament, in order to attain the two-thirds majority needed to appoint a presidency council which then nominates the prime minister.

In return, the Kurds have been seeking an iron-clad commitment from the Shiites that they will respect provisions regarding Kirkuk in an interim constitution adopted under the U.S.-led occupation last year.

The constitution sets out steps to redress toppled dictator Saddam Hussein's expulsion of around 100,000 Kurds from Kirkuk, and also provides for a secular and federal Iraq.

The longer the process plays out, observers fear insurgents will exploit the delays and erode any momentum gained by the January 30 election.

In violence Sunday, a car bomb attack aimed at a US patrol on the eastern side of Baghdad killed two Iraqis including a 15-year-old boy and wounded at least 10 according to hospital and security sources.

A U.S. soldier was shot dead in the main northern city of Mosul late Friday, the military announced.

Two U.S. contract employees with the Blackwater security firm were killed in a weekend roadside attack that left another company employee injured, the State Department announced.

A policeman was killed and three others wounded when a mortar struck a checkpoint in the capital, an interior ministry official said.

Twelve corpses, which had been rotting for a month, were found by the Iraqi army near Latifiyah, 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of Baghdad, a security source said.

A car bomb killed four people and left seven wounded in ousted dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, a defense ministry official said, but gave no further details.

An official from the party of secular Shiite politician Ahmed Chalabi was seriously wounded by gunmen in the Sunni rebel stronghold of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, police said.

The U.S. army said it killed five insurgents in firefights around Mosul, considered one of the strongholds of the nearly two-year-old insurgency.

Five civilians, including a woman, were injured when a U.S. military helicopter opened fire in response to gun shots from rebels, the army and witnesses said.


Middle East

By Patrick Quinn

Associated Press
March 13, 2005 -- 7:58 p.m. ET

BAGHDAD -- Kurdish leaders said they were near a final agreement Sunday with the majority Shiites to form a coalition government when Iraq's first democratically elected parliament in modern history convenes later this week.

Further talks are slated in Baghdad on Monday. The deal calls for Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader, to be named president. Conservative Islamic Dawa party leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari, of the Shiite majority, would become prime minister.

But as the country neared a political landmark many hoped would set the stage for an eventual U.S. withdrawal, two American security contractors were killed and a third was wounded in a roadside bombing south of Baghdad.

The three worked for Blackwater Security, a North Carolina-based firm that provides security for U.S. State Department officials and facilities in Iraq. They were attacked on the main road to Hillah, south of Baghdad, according to Bob Callahan, a U.S. Embassy spokesman.

In Mosul, 225 miles north of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi troops killed five insurgents in street fighting, the military said. Three other people, a woman and two children, were killed inadvertently when an American helicopter gunship fired at insurgents, according to Mosul's Al-Jumhuri Teaching Hospital.

The military said at least five Iraqis were wounded in the incident, which occurred when a patrolling helicopter was fired on by insurgents in four cars. The U.S. helicopter returned fire, destroying three of the cars, and U.S. officials said the incident was under investigation.

Also Sunday, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin reported new contact and information about the kidnapped French journalist Florence Aubenas and Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi, her Iraqi interpreter. Raffarin said the new contacts gave hope the Libération newspaper reporter could be freed. Aubenas and her translator were kidnapped in Baghdad on Jan. 5.

Libération director Serge July visited Baghdad's Um al-Qura mosque, which serves as headquarters of the Association of Muslim Scholars, an influential organization of Sunni clerics. Sunni Arabs make up the bulk of Iraq's insurgency.

In protest against insurgent violence, a small group of about 50 Shiites demonstrated outside Jordan's embassy after reports that the suicide bomber who killed 125 people in a Feb. 28 attack in Hillah was Jordanian. The protesters burned at least one Jordanian flag.

The political developments Sunday occurred outside the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, a Kurdish enclave, where leaders of the minority said they were working out final details on a coalition government in accordance with a deal reached earlier this month with the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance.

The two camps are to formalize their agreement Monday, two days before the National Assembly convenes for the first time since Jan. 30 elections.

"The basic Kurdish demands are not about the Kurds only but the whole of Iraq, we are working for an Iraqi process -- a coalition government that respects the constitution," said Interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, a Kurd.

Interim Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, also a Kurd, said a Kurdish delegation was to meet with the alliance again on Monday before the deal is announced, emphasizing that a final agreement was close.

The Kurds won 75 seats in the 275-member National Assembly during Jan. 30 elections. The alliance won 140 seats and needs Kurdish support to assemble the two-thirds majority to elect a president, who will then give a mandate to the prime minister.

In other violence reported Sunday, a U.S. soldier was gunned down late the day before in an insurgent attack in Mosul.

The death brought to at least 1,514 the number U.S. military personnel lost since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Foreign contractors, too, are often targeted by anti-U.S. guerrillas. At least 232 American civilian security and reconstruction contractors were killed in Iraq up to the end of 2004, according to the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

The Blackwater employees killed Saturday were in the last vehicle in a four-vehicle convoy and were traveling to Hillah from Baghdad. The road crosses an area known as the "Triangle of Death" because of the frequency of insurgent attacks.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the contractors were assigned to protect American diplomats.

"We will always remember their courage, dedication, and ultimate sacrifice for their country in the name of freedom," he said.

Blackwater Security said it was withholding their names out of respect for their families.

In other violence, two Iraqis were killed and five injured in a roadside bombing intended for a U.S. convoy in southeast Baghdad on Sunday, said Dr. Ali Karim at Kindi hospital.

In Sharqat, 160 miles northwest of Baghdad, a suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle on Saturday outside the house of the town's chief of special police forces, said police Col. Jassim al-Jubouri. The chief was not harmed, but four people were killed and several others were injured.

--Associated Press writers Rawya Rageh, Sameer N. Yacoub and Qasim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Yahya Barzanji in Kirkuk contributed to this report.