Radical's party is restive in dominant Iraq alliance

Al-Sadr's faction threatens to break away unless terms met, such as including Sunnis

February 16, 2006|By SOLOMON MOORE | SOLOMON MOORE,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- Only days after deciding to nominate incumbent Ibrahim al-Jaafari to continue as Iraq's prime minister, his United Iraqi Alliance coalition was showing signs yesterday of fraying.

Leaders of the Al Fadila al Islamiya Party, which is associated with radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and had offered its own candidate for the post, threatened yesterday to break from the dominant alliance if the UIA did not make more overtures to Sunni Arabs, restrain Shiite paramilitary groups and rule in a more collaborative style.

As legislators prepare to form Iraq's first permanent government since Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003, the Fadila ultimatum suggested that al-Jaafari's nomination, approved by a one-vote margin among the coalition's 128 members of parliament, is still causing tensions within the Shiite-led alliance.

The threat shows how difficult it will be for al-Jaafari, a Shiite theologian who has presided over a year of gas and oil shortages, police abuse scandals and sectarian killings, to keep the Shiite bloc in line over the next four years.

As the nominee of the largest bloc in the new 275-seat legislature, al-Jaafari would still likely become prime minister even without the support of Fadila, which holds about 15 seats. He retains the support of the two largest Shiite parties and several Kurdish and secular blocks. The parliament must first select a presidential council, which then must approve the prime minister and his Cabinet.

But a defection by the party could make the contentious negotiations over Cabinet posts even more difficult and delay the formation of Iraq's permanent government.

U.S. officials also have called for a broad-based government that would represent all of Iraq's ethnic and religious factions, arguing that inclusion of Sunnis is crucial to the success of the country's nascent political process and to the quelling of violence.

"I certainly see the political will in the different corners and the appreciation for a national unity government," said a Western diplomat, on condition of anonymity. "I hear more people talk about cross-sectarian cooperation than I have ever heard."

But Khudayr Khuzai, a legislator with Dawa, another of the coalition's large Shiite parties, discounted Fadila's threat as political posturing in advance of negotiations over Cabinet posts and expressed doubts about whether the group would break ranks with the Shiite bloc.

Meanwhile, violence continued to sweep the nation yesterday, killing at least 13 Iraqis. A bomb that was detonated in a Baghdad street killed three girls and a boy walking to school, according to an Associated Press report. The children were between the ages of 10 and 14, and included three siblings.

Solomon Moore writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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