"These negotiations included many things, not just the Kurdish issues, but also regarding the shape of the Iraqi government," said interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, a Kurd.

The latest setback came after Kurdish politicians reportedly insisted on amending a deal they struck last week with the Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance. They agreed, however, to go ahead with a ceremony on Wednesday swearing in the 275-seat National Assembly elected on 30 January.

But the deputies failed to set a date to reconvene, did not elect a speaker or nominate a president and vice president - all of which they had hoped to do on their first day. Instead, the session was spent revelling in the seating of Iraq's first democratic legislature in a half-century.

Disagreement

The failure to appoint top officials stemmed from the inability of Shia, Kurds and Sunni Arabs to agree on a speaker for the new legislature, disagreement over the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk and renewed haggling over Cabinet posts.

"This procrastination in forming the government frustrates us and does not make us optimistic"

Qais Musa,
Baghdad resident

The interim constitution sets no time limit for forming a government after the National Assembly convenes. "We will be seeing a government formed next week," said Haitham al-Husaini, who leads the office of Shia alliance leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, but he would not give a firm date.

Azad Jundiyan, a spokesman for Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said he thought the government would be named after Kurds celebrate Norwuz, their six-day new year holiday that ends on 26 March.

"This procrastination in forming the government frustrates us and does not make us optimistic," said Qais Musa of Baghdad, echoing frustration widely heard among people on the street. "Iraqis were hoping to see a national government."

The peshmerga issue

Most of the disagreement focused on whether to allow the Kurds' peshmerga militia to remain in Kurdistan as part of the Iraqi police and army, along with setting a timetable for Kurds to assume control of Kirkuk and permit the speedy return of nearly 100,000 refugees - conditions included in an interim law that serves as a preliminary constitution.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari is the most
likely to be Iraq's prime minister

"Negotiations were very constructive and the differences in the interim law and peshmerga were solved. We have agreed that some peshmerga will join the Kurdistan police and some will be part of the Iraqi army, with the same equipment and salaries and take orders from the defence ministry in Baghdad," said Jundiyan.

Kurds want the Shia alliance to strictly follow Article 58 of the interim law, which sets out the procedure for extending Kurdish territories to include Kirkuk. The changes would then be embodied in a constitution to be drafted by the National Assembly by mid-August and put to voters two months later in a referendum.

The alliance agreed to start talks on Kirkuk immediately after the government is formed but balked at keeping a strict timetable tied to the constitution.

"We need to establish a mechanism in which work can continue even after the writing of the constitution," said Abd al-Karim al-Anzi, one of the alliance's negotiators.