Reuters: Iraq’s Shi’ite Alliance said on Thursday it would hold a new internal vote to name a prime minister, raising the possibility that Ibrahim al-Jaafari would be removed to end a months-long impasse over a unity government. By Ibon Villelabeitia
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s Shi’ite Alliance said on Thursday it would hold a new internal vote to name a prime minister, raising the possibility that Ibrahim al-Jaafari would be removed to end a months-long impasse over a unity government.
The Alliance announced the move after Jaafari, who had ignored calls from Sunni Arabs, Kurds and even some Shi’ites to step aside, invited it to decide whether he should resign.
“The general chamber in the Alliance will vote on this issue as it did previously. That will be soon,” Alliance member Hussain al-Shahristani told a news conference.
Jaafari’s refusal to step down as the Alliance’s nominee for prime minister has paralyzed the U.S.-backed political process.
In a televised speech to the nation on Thursday night, Jaafari reiterated it was up to the Alliance to decide his fate.
“I left the choice with them (the Alliance), to do whatever they want,” he said.
But his 20-minute speech stopped short of saying he was ready to resign to end the political paralysis.
Washington is increasingly frustrated at the inability of Iraqi leaders to put together a government including Shi’ites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds, seen as the best hope of taming a Sunni insurgency, halting sectarian bloodshed and averting civil war.
Failure to agree how to share government posts prompted Iraqi legislators to postpone Thursday’s scheduled meeting of parliament until Saturday — the second such delay in a week.
The Alliance, the largest bloc in parliament, chose Jaafari by a one-vote margin in an internal ballot in February. The vote exposed splits in the grouping that won December elections.
Critics says Jaafari is a weak leader who has failed to curb violence and improve the economy in his year in office.
Ali al-Adeeb, a member of Jaafari’s Dawa party, is one name floated by the Alliance as a possible replacement.
PARLIAMENT SESSION POSTPONED
Acting parliament speaker Adnan Pachachi delayed the assembly session to April 22 to give blocs more time to agree on key posts. Parliament has sat only once since it was elected.
“Leaders of political parties have agreed to postpone parliament. There are still some issues that have not been resolved yet,” Pachachi told a news conference.
Alliance legislators had threatened to boycott the sitting, saying they would only attend if all parties agreed beforehand on top posts, including that of assembly speaker.
Signaling growing impatience at the delay, President Bush said on Wednesday that “the political process in Iraq must occur soon and we are working toward that end”.
But ditching Jaafari could split the Alliance, whose electoral victory reversed decades of Sunni Arab domination under Saddam Hussein and previous administrations.
Jaafari had won the ticket thanks to the support of Moqtada al-Sadr, a young anti-U.S. cleric with growing political clout.
The deadlock over forming a national unity government has coincided with a surge in violence that has pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war three years after U.S.-led forces invaded.
The United States, which has more than 130,000 troops in Iraq, says the political vacuum has allowed violence to thrive.
Even if Iraqi leaders finally agree on a new government, they will have their work cut out stabilizing Iraqi regions where sectarian tensions are at fever pitch.
“We are defending our lives and our neighbors and our families from any attack. We are holding our guns up high,” said Abu Yarer, an insurgent in Baghdad’s Adhamiya district.
About 50 rebels attacked Iraqi government forces overnight on Monday in Adhamiya, sparking clashes so fierce that American troops were called in to help.