Iraq official pushed to step down

Prime minister accused of monopolizing government power



Baghdad, Iraq -- A spokesman for Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's party called yesterday for the ouster of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a startling sign of the growing fissure developing between the top leaders of the Shiite and Kurdish blocs.

The statement from Azad Junduiani, the spokesman for Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, comes on the heels of Talabani blasting al-Jaafari for monopolizing government power and failing to keep promises on Kurdish issues that the Shiite and Kurdish blocs agreed on when they formed their alliance.

Talabani, as well as Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Massoud Barzani, are growing impatient with al-Jaafari over the slow movement of Kurdish resettlement in the northern city of Kirkuk.

During Saddam Hussein's regime, tens of thousands of Kurds were moved out of the oil-rich city and Sunni Arab families were moved into Kurdish homes in what became known as Arabization. When Kurds and Shiites agreed to create an alliance earlier this year in which al-Jaafari was elevated to the nation's top political post, part of the agreement was that the prime minister would increase the pace of resettlement.

"It is time for us, the Kurdish coalition and the United Islamic Alliance to discuss the issue of the prime minister stepping down," Junduiani said in a telephone interview from the northern city of Sulaymaniyah. "The continued presence of Prime Minister al-Jaafari will harm the performance of this government."

A presidential spokesman said Junduiani was speaking for the PUK and not Talabani. Junduiani added that Talabani and Barzani sent a joint memo to al-Jaafari two weeks ago stating their grievances and that the prime minister has yet to respond.

The call for al-Jaafari's ouster comes less than two weeks before the nation goes to the polls to vote on a national referendum on a draft constitution, which was largely written by Shiite and Kurdish politicians.

For the time being, it does not appear the feud between al-Jaafari and Talabani marks a break in the coalition and should not have an effect on the constitutional referendum, in which the Shiites and Kurds stand to be winners if it is approved. While Talabani's patience with al-Jaafari is wearing thin, the alliance between the Kurds and Shiites remains strong, Junduiani said.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops faced heavy combat in the second day of a major operation near the Syrian border called Iron Fist. The operation, which started in Sadah, appeared to expand to Karabilah, another city where the insurgency has set strong roots.

The U.S. military reported that 13 insurgents were killed yesterday during the operation. Five civilians were injured, and no U.S. military casualties were reported.

In the United States, the two top commanders in charge of the Iraq war, appearing separately on network talk shows yesterday, amended more sobering statements they made last week.

Gen. George Casey Jr., who oversees U.S. forces in Iraq, and Gen. John Abizaid, who leads the U.S. Central Command, emphasized the military and political progress being made in Iraq.

"There are peaks and valleys that you go through, but overall the trend is good," Abizaid told NBC's Meet the Press. "We're certainly confident."

The training of Iraqi security forces is "very much on track," Casey told ABC's This Week.

Aamer Madhani writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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