News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIraqi Shiite factions struggle to solve political impasse

Iraqi Shiite factions struggle to solve political impasse


New York Times: Rival Shiite leaders agreed Sunday to allow Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s party to nominate the next prime minister on the condition that Mr. Jaafari step down, Iraqi politicians said.
The New York Times


BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 16 —Rival Shiite leaders agreed Sunday to allow Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s party to nominate the next prime minister on the condition that Mr. Jaafari step down, Iraqi politicians said.

The move could bring the Shiite bloc closer to resolving a nearly two-month impasse over the candidate for prime minister and speed the formation of a new government.

As of Sunday evening, Mr. Jaafari remained unwilling to abdicate, but officials in his party were discussing options, Shiite leaders said.

To allow more time for negotiations, the acting speaker of Parliament, Adnan Pachachi, canceled a meeting of the 275-member assembly that had been scheduled for Monday.

He said in a telephone interview that he had acted “against my better judgment,” but that a solution might be reached within a few days.

Mr. Pachachi called the meeting last week to try to set a deadline for the Shiites to resolve the issue and present a nominee to Parliament.

In recent weeks, rival factions within the Shiite bloc, which holds 130 seats in Parliament, have been jockeying for the post of prime minister. The bloc, the largest in Parliament, has the right to make a nomination.

Mr. Jaafari, considered by many to be an ineffectual leader, won the nomination in February by a single vote in a secret ballot among the Shiites. He was backed by the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

But in late February, the main Sunni Arab, Kurdish and secular blocs in Parliament said they would not accept Mr. Jaafari. Since a two-thirds vote of Parliament is essentially needed to install the executive branch, the process is at a standstill.

The Shiites have been trying to come up with another nominee for nearly two months. The candidate who lost to Mr. Jaafari in the secret ballot, Adel Abdul Mahdi, was considered a front-runner. But Mr. Sadr despises Mr. Abdul Mahdi’s party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

It appeared Sunday that Mr. Abdul Mahdi would take a vice president position rather than continue fighting for the nomination, said Khalid al-Attiyah, an independent member of the Shiite bloc. “He’s no longer running for the premiership,” said Mr. Pachachi, the speaker.

Mr. Attiyah and Mr. Pachachi said the Shiite leaders agreed that Mr. Jaafari’s political group, the Islamic Dawa Party, could nominate a candidate if it withdrew Mr. Jaafari, but it was unclear whether Dawa officials would be able to persuade Mr. Jaafari, the party’s leader, to step down. Shiite politicians mention two party deputies inside Dawa — Jawad al-Maliki and Ali al-Adeeb — as possible replacements.

Some Shiite officials said they saw those men as weak, like Mr. Jaafari. “The options are limited for the Dawa Party,” Mr. Attiyah said.

The Shiites have come under increasing pressure from the clerical leadership in Najaf and the American government to resolve the dispute. American officials have made it clear to the Shiites that they would prefer a replacement for Mr. Jaafari because of his close ties to Mr. Sadr, who oversees an unpredictable militia, and his relationship with Iran, where he lived for many years in exile.

Mr. Jaafari’s party is the most respected Shiite political group in Iraq. It was heavily persecuted by Saddam Hussein and came to represent the Shiites’ sense of victimhood under the old government. Shiite officials have considered nominating some politicians outside the Dawa Party. They include Hussein al-Shahristani, a former nuclear physicist; Kassim Daoud, national security adviser under the government that preceded Mr. Jaafari’s; and Ali Allawi, the finance minister and a nephew of Ahmad Chalabi.

Iraqi politicians are also fighting over the post of speaker of Parliament. The main Sunni Arab bloc is pushing the other blocs to support its leader, Tariq al-Hashemi, for the job. But some Shiites oppose Mr. Hashemi, saying he is too hard-line and sectarian, said Sami al-Askari, a member of the Shiite bloc.

American and Iraqi officials say they hope the formation of a unified government will help stop the sectarian bloodletting that has taken hold in Iraq.

In the power vacuum, the rate of killings has soared. On Sunday afternoon, a suicide car bomb detonated outside the Shemal restaurant in the town of Mahmudiya, killing at least 10 and wounding at least 25, police officials said.

Guerrillas in Anbar Province, to the west, carried out assaults that killed four marines in two incidents on Saturday, the American military said Sunday. A British soldier was killed and three were wounded in a bomb explosion on Saturday, the British Defense Ministry said.

Early Sunday, American-led forces raided a home in the town of Yusufiya, the American military said in a written statement.

During the ensuing battle, five insurgents and a woman were killed, and three women and a child were wounded, the military said, while declining to give details on who was responsible.

It said the aim of the raid was to search for a suspected member of Al Qaeda, whom troops found.

In eastern Baghdad, a bomb planted in a minibus killed at least four people and wounded six others, an Interior Ministry official said. Gunmen killed a policeman in northern Baghdad and wounded four others. Policemen found three bodies in the Tigris River, all shot in the head.

In Kirkuk, men dressed in Iraqi Army uniforms opened fire on civilians stopped by a road, killing two and wounding two others, said Col. Yadgar Abdullah of the Kirkuk police.

Dozens of policemen who were missing after an insurgent ambush on a police convoy north of Baghdad on Thursday have been accounted for, said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the American military.

He said he did not know their condition. At least nine other policemen were killed and seven were wounded in the nighttime attack.

The police chief of Najaf, where the policemen work, said Friday that the convoy had been forced to drive back to Najaf in the dark because the Americans had refused to let the policemen stay at an American base in Taji, where the policemen had been picking up new vehicles.

Colonel Johnson said Sunday that the Americans had actually tried to prevent the police from leaving the base for safety reasons, but that the convoy had driven out a side gate.

Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi contributed reporting for this article.

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