BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – A tribal chief who challenged Iraq’s most feared terrorist and sent fighters to help U.S. troops battle al-Qaida in western Iraq died in a hail of bullets Sunday – the latest victim of an apparent insurgent campaign against Sunni Arabs who work with Americans.

The prime minister, meanwhile, was frustrated again in trying to fill key security posts, and his spokesman hinted at a deadline if the impasse continued. Nouri al-Maliki is trying to get Shiite and Sunni politicians to agree on candidates who are independent and not tied to sectarian militias.

Shootings and bombings killed nine people and wounded 35 across the country Sunday, and the bodies of at least 10 more people were found in Baghdad, possible victims of the sectarian bloodshed tearing at Iraq.

The most significant killing involved Sheik Osama al-Jadaan, who was ambushed by gunmen as he was being driven in Baghdad’s Mansour district, a predominantly Sunni Arab area. Al-Jadaan’s driver and one of his bodyguards also were killed, police Lt. Maitham Abdul Razzaq said.

Al-Jadaan was a leader of the Karabila tribe, which has thousands of members in Anbar province, an insurgent hotbed stretching from west of Baghdad to the Syrian border. He had announced an agreement with the U.S.-backed Iraqi government to help security forces track down al-Qaida members and foreign fighters.

U.S. troops also raised a scout force from al-Jadaan’s followers known as the “Desert Protectors” to help find insurgents living under the protection of a rival tribe in Qaim and a cluster of nearby towns in Anbar. U.S. officials described the area as a staging ground for smuggling weapons, ammunition and fighters into Iraq.

Al-Jadaan claimed in March that his people had captured hundreds of foreign fighters and handed them over to authorities. He also issued a warning to al-Qaida in Iraq’s leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is blamed for many of the country’s worst terror bombings.

“Under my leadership and that of our brothers in other tribes, we are getting close to the shelter of this terrorist,” al-Jadaan said. “We will capture him soon.”

The drive, dubbed Operation Tribal Chivalry, was designed to secure Iraq’s borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to prevent foreign fighters from sneaking in.

Anti-American sentiments have been strong in Anbar since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, which was dominated by the Sunni Arab minority. But relations between Anbar locals and foreign fighters soured when the outsiders started killing Iraqis suspected of having links to the Americans or even those holding government jobs.

The rift worsened with a wave of assassinations and bombings that killed dozens of Anbar residents after tribal and religious leaders, former army officers and ordinary Iraqis met with U.S. officers to discuss what could be done to speed the withdrawal of the U.S.-led military coalition.

A suicide bombing Jan. 5 aimed at a line of police recruits in the Anbar city of Ramadi killed at least 58 people, including U.S. soldiers. Stunned city residents turned on al-Qaida, and al-Jadaan announced his agreement with Iraq’s government to help with security.

U.S. officials hope Iraqis will be able to take on more security duties soon, allowing American forces to begin pulling out. But a week after al-Maliki’s unity government took office, Iraq’s ethnic, sectarian and secular parties are struggling to agree on who should run the crucial interior and defense ministries, which control the various Iraqi security forces.

The continued impasse dashed hopes that al-Maliki, a member of Iraq’s Shiite majority, could swear in the two new ministers when the 275-member parliament convened Sunday after a four-day recess.

Al-Maliki’s spokesman, Yassin Majid, said if negotiations took much longer, the prime minister would ask the political blocs to present three names for each ministry so he could decide.

“There is no deadline for that, but it could happen this week,” Majid said.

Hassan al-Sineid, a Shiite legislator who belongs to al-Maliki’s Dawa Party, said that step might come by Wednesday.

Sunni Arab lawmaker Saleh al-Mutlaq emphasized the importance of finding neutral parties to fill the posts. “It is very important that the persons who take over should be independent and bold figures” who will resist pressure from their own political blocs, he said.

The Shiite-dominated interior ministry, which controls the police forces, has been promised to that community. Sunni Arabs are to get the defense ministry, overseeing the army.

It is hoped the balance will enable al-Maliki to move ahead with a plan for Iraqis to take on all security duties over the next 18 months. He wants to try to attract army recruits from among the Sunni Arab minority, which provides the core of the insurgency.

The sectarian divisions have proved a daunting problem for Iraq’s politicians.

In an indication of the problem, legislators apparently held a stormy closed-door session Sunday arguing over parliament’s Sunni Arab speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani.

The Shiite and Kurdish coalitions want parliamentary rules changed to require al-Mashhadani to consult with his Shiite and Kurdish deputy speakers before making any decisions, even though his post has little real power. Sunnis staunchly opposed the demand.

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