Iraq Heads Towards New Shiite-Led Government

Iraq inched towards a new government Wednesday with power set to be vested once more in the hands of Shiite religious parties who have close ties to Iran, pushing Sunni-backed secularists to the margins.A deal was struck late Tuesday between the war-torn country's two biggest Shiite Muslim alliances, allowing them to squeeze out a secular coalition that won a March 7 general election but failed to build a parliamentary majority.The agreement, struck after two months of haggling that paralysed politics and alarmed the United States ahead of its planned military withdrawal from the country, was condemned by the secular bloc as "a sectarian merger."Discussions about who will become prime minister are now under way between the Shiite parties, an official from incumbent Premier Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law bloc told AFP.However, it is widely believed the price of the agreement between State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) was a commitment that Maliki would not continue in his