Iraqi leaders search for solution

Political groups offer proposals to break impasse, form government


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqi leaders worked yesterday to solve their impasse over who will rule the country, with a secular coalition proposing an emergency government that would supersede election results and Shiite clerics conferring on how best to preserve their sect's newfound power.

Politicians remained deadlocked over Sunni Arab and Kurdish opposition to Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the main Shiite coalition's nominee for prime minister. The crisis has created a political vacuum, stalling critical reconstruction projects and contributing to the country's security woes.

Top Shiite Muslim clerics in Najaf were deep in discussion over whether to intervene more forcefully, an official at the clergy's office said on condition of anonymity.

The clergy's aim, said the official, is to prevent the choice for prime minister from being made by the entire parliament, where Shiite politicians are short of a majority, or allowing the formation of a "salvation" government as proposed yesterday by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

"They want to solve this crisis before there is an even bigger one," said the official, who is familiar with the talks.

Late last week, Mohammed Redha al-Sistani, the son of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, secured a commitment from radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr not to object if the Shiites jettison al-Jaafari, whom al-Sadr has supported.

Officials in the Shiite coalition, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there has been a concerted effort to remove al-Jaafari. But party leaders still sought an alternate nominee, possibly one of the less well-known figures from within al-Jaafari's Dawa Party.

Allawi, a one-time CIA protege and leader of a secular coalition with 25 seats in parliament, said in a statement on Iraqi television that political leaders might have to create an emergency government "that is capable of bringing Iraq to its feet and save it from its current deadly crisis."

Such a government could include political groups that didn't win seats in the previous election and be based on a political agreement rather than the constitution, said Adnan Pachachi, a leading politician in Allawi's coalition.

Many secular and moderate politicians who came to prominence in the initial period after the U.S.-led invasion failed to win seats in parliament in the December election. Iraqis voted heavily for coalitions based on ethnic or religious identities.

"It would be a genuine, effective partnership between all the political forces in the country," Pachachi said in an interview. "It would not necessarily be based on the results of the election, which we do not think reflected the voters' will, anyway."

Most Shiite religious and political leaders strongly oppose such a government, which they worry could deprive the Shiites of power even though they are a majority in the country.

Kurds, Sunnis and Allawi's followers oppose al-Jaafari because they say he has been ineffective, imperious and uncommunicative during his year as interim premier. In recent weeks, Shiites within al-Jaafari's coalition have begun to speak out against him.

Shiites, Sunni Arabs and autonomy-minded Kurds have been jostling for power since the U.S.-led invasion brought down Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led government three years ago.

A car bomb yesterday near a restaurant frequented by Iraqi police in a Shiite district of eastern Baghdad killed five people and injured 23.

New insurgent violence also broke out in Anbar province, the heart of the country's Sunni Arab-led insurgency.

A U.S. intelligence officer said violence throughout Anbar province is down this year compared to last year. But hotspots persist.

A roadside bomb struck a U.S. convoy on a rural road 10 miles south of Fallujah and civilians were hurt in an ensuing crossfire, according to witnesses. U.S. troops in a convoy came under attack in a village between Fallujah and Ramadi the previous night, Iraqi officials said.

Civilians also were injured in a clash between U.S. forces and gunmen near Ramadi's soccer stadium, police and hospital officials said.

The U.S. military reported that a Marine died Friday in a motor vehicle accident.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times

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