Reuters: Iraq’s ruling Shi’ite Alliance is under mounting pressure from would-be coalition partners to reconsider its nomination of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari for a second term, senior political sources said on Wednesday. By Mariam Karouny
BAGHDAD, March 1 (Reuters) – Iraq’s ruling Shi’ite Alliance is under mounting pressure from would-be coalition partners to reconsider its nomination of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari for a second term, senior political sources said on Wednesday.
The standoff is complicating U.S. efforts to press Iraq’s rival communities into a national unity government that they hope can stop sectarian bloodletting like that seen last week, stave off civil war and allow Washington to bring troops home.
“If Jaafari remains the Alliance candidate then there will be no government,” one senior Iraqi politician told Reuters.
Jaafari, leader of the Dawa party and premier for the past year, won the nomination to lead the new government in an internal ballot of Alliance legislators — by far the biggest bloc in the new parliament elected in December.
He edged out Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi of SCIRI, the biggest single party in the Alliance, by one vote after the third force in the Alliance, led by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, threw its weight behind the incumbent premier.
Secular, Sunni and Kurdish political sources said the surprise victory for Jaafari, whom they have accused of being ineffectual and unreliable, left them angry and frustrated.
Jaafari, a grey-bearded, quietly spoken doctor who lived in exile in Iran and London, is widely seen as lacking the charisma and strength needed to pull Iraq through crisis, even though he does have powerful backers in the religious Shi’ite community.
Officials in all three camps — secular Iraqis, Sunnis and Kurds — as well as some Shi’ites, agree his nomination has made forming a government an extremely difficult process.
U.S. officials are closely involved in guiding the formation of the government and have privately expressed reservations about Jaafari’s ties to fellow Shi’ite Islamists in Iran.
The Alliance’s Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, the national security adviser, told Reuters on Tuesday he had “solid information” the new government would take at least two months to be formed, partly as a result of the sectarian violence of the past week.
“We hope we can form the government as soon as we can but the latest incidents have delayed (a process) which was already difficult. If we are lucky it will take us at least two months,” he said. “This process is a rocky road.”
MORE BACKING NEEDED
A senior Sunni political source said the main Sunni bloc in parliament would not take part in the government if it was to be lead by Jaafari: “We cannot work with Jaafari.”
“That was clear to the Shi’ites and we told them that — we think that nominating him again shows they are ignoring us.
“He has a bad record. We sent messages and all parties sent messages to the Shi’ites saying that we cannot work with him.”
A senior government source told Reuters that Sunnis, Kurds and the secular list of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi had met as part of series of meetings to discuss the situation.
“We have discussed many issues including working with Jaafari,” the source said. “Shall we work with him or not?
“We would prefer to have a national unity government and the premiership candidate ought to be from the Alliance.
“But we need someone we can work with.”
Several sources said parliament, which has yet to sit since the Dec. 15 election in which Sunnis took part in large numbers for the first time under the U.S.-sponsored process, will not meet before a final deal is reached between all parties on who fills key posts, including the presidency.
“It will all be one package. Parliament will not meet before reaching a deal on posts,” one senior source said.
Ibrahim Janabi from Allawi’s Iraqi List said his party respected the Alliance’s choice of Jaafari but noted that the premier would still need approval by a two-thirds majority in parliament to take up his post — that gives the other parties some leverage in negotiations on the shape of any coalition.
“We are still working according to the interim constitution and it is clear … Jaafari has to get the two thirds vote, so things are not final,” Janabi said.
Only once a government is in place, will a new constitution ratified in a referendum last year come into force.