Wed Apr 12, 2006 3:01pm ET
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A car bomb killed at least 26 people outside a Shi’ite mosque north of Baghdad on Wednesday as Iraqi leaders failed to make progress toward forming a national unity government they hope can avert sectarian civil war.
The explosion in the town of Howaydir was the latest in a wave of attacks against Iraq’s Shi’ite majority that Washington fears will push the country close to a full-scale communal conflict in the vacuum left by bickering politicians.
Some 70 people were wounded in the explosion, police said.
Fresh demands from the Shi’ite Alliance over the creation of a government threatened to prolong the political paralysis.
Acting parliament speaker Adnan Pachachi said Iraqi leaders would discuss a national unity government at the next session on Monday and he was optimistic of a breakthrough before then in spite of the Shi’ite Alliance’s reluctance to drop its choice of Ibrahim al-Jaafari for prime minister.
"I spoke to the heads of all the political blocs and I sensed a true intent from all to push the political process forward," Pachachi said. "From now until the 17th of this month, we believe there will be an agreement on some of the problems."
Elections for the new government ended four months ago and the United States and Britain have been pressing Iraqi leaders to agree on who will lead it, fearful the widening vacuum emboldens insurgents trying to undermine the political process.
The car bomb in Howaydir exploded near a mosque and a crowded market, the kind of attack that U.S. and Iraqi officials say is part of a campaign by al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to draw Shi’ites into civil war with Arab Sunnis.
ARAB MEETING BOYCOTT
The Shi’ite-dominated Baghdad government boycotted an Arab foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo on Wednesday to protest against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s remark last week that Shi’ites in Arab countries were more loyal to Shi’ite Iran.
Mubarak said civil war had already started in Iraq, where fresh violence on Wednesday reminded Iraqi politicians that they will face an enormous task in tackling insurgent bombings, kidnappings and death squads once a government is formed.