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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

8 Killed in Escape Attempt at Baghdad Prison

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- An inmate in a Baghdad prison grabbed an assault rifle from a guard Wednesday and opened fire, killing eight people, the Interior Ministry said. One American soldier was injured in the attempted prison break, the U.S. military said.

The Shiite religious bloc leading Iraq's parliamentary elections, meanwhile, held talks with Kurdish leaders about who should get the top 12 government jobs.

The prisoner fired indiscriminately after grabbing an AK-47, killing four guards and four inmates, said Iraqi army Brigadier General Jalil al-Mehamadawi. The Interior Ministry said one guard and three prisoners were wounded.

The U.S. military's account was slightly different. A statement by Sergeant Keith Robinson said "it was reported that 16 prisoners attempted to escape the facility after first storming the armory and obtaining an undetermined number of weapons."

Robinson said that in addition to the eight deaths, one U.S. soldier and five prisoners had been injured.

Guards overtook the gunman and restrained him, al-Mehamadawi said. The prison was a Justice Ministry facility that also housed foreigners, officials said.

Police in Karbala said 31 bodies had been unearthed in a mass grave discovered this week that is believed to date back to a 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein. Officials hoped to identify the bodies through DNA testing.

The talks between the majority Shiites and the Kurds were seen as part of an effort to force the main Sunni Arab organizations to come to the bargaining table. All groups have begun jockeying, and the protests are widely considered to be part of an attempt by Sunni Arabs to maximize their negotiating position.

The discussions come at a critical time for Iraq, with the United States placing high hopes on forming a broad-based coalition government that will provide the fledgling democracy with the stability and security it needs to allow its troops to begin returning home.

In another of the continuing political demonstrations around the country, more than 4,000 people rallied Wednesday in Samarra, 95 kilometers north of Baghdad, in favor of the major Sunni Arab party, the Iraqi Accordance Front. Demonstrators carried banners saying, "We refuse the election forgery."

The major Sunni Arab party alleges that the Dec. 15 elections were tainted by fraud.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Shiite religious coalition dominating the current government, traveled to the northern Kurdish city of Irbil for the meeting with Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region.

"We held preliminary consultations," al-Hakim said at a joint news conference with Barzani on Tuesday. "All the details need to be studied and we need to evaluate the previous alliance and study its weaknesses and strengths. Then we will try to include the others."

A Kurdish coalition that includes Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party and President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is now the junior partner in a government led by al-Hakim's United Iraqi Alliance.

Preliminary results from the Dec. 15 vote have given the United Iraqi Alliance a big lead, but one unlikely to allow it to govern without forming a coalition with other groups.

Final results are expected early next month, but the Shiite religious bloc may win about 130 seats in the 275-member parliament -- short of the 184 seats needed to avoid a coalition with other parties.

More than 10,000 people, some carrying photos of Allawi, demonstrated in central Baghdad on Tuesday in favor of a government that would give more power to Sunni Arabs and secular Shiites. They are demanding that an international body review more than 1,500 complaints, warning they may boycott the new legislature.

The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq considers 35 of the complaints serious enough to change some local results. It said that on Tuesday it had begun audits of ballot boxes taken from about 7,000 polling stations in Baghdad province.

 A United Nations official on Wednesday described contested elections for Iraq's new parliament as transparent and credible, and said there was no justification in calls for a rerun. "The United Nations is of the view that these elections were transparent and credible. Turnout was high and the day was largely peaceful, all communities participated," said Craig Jenness.

 Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz announced Tuesday that his conservative minority government had asked President Lech Kaczynski to keep Polish troops in Iraq for another year, reversing plans by the previous government to bring them home in January. Polish forces are to be reduced from nearly 1,500 to 900 in March.

Opposition leaders across the political spectrum condemned the decision.