Iraqi government talks remain at an impasse

Parliament session delayed amid deadlock on premier

April 17, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Rival Shiite leaders agreed yesterday to allow Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's party to nominate the next prime minister on the condition that al-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 yesterday evening, al-Jaafari remained unwilling to resign, 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 today. 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.

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 prime minister post. The bloc, the largest in parliament, has the right to make a nomination. Al-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 Muqtada al-Sadr.

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

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

It appeared yesterday that 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.

Attiyah and Pachachi said the Shiite leaders agreed that al-Jaafari's political group, the Islamic Dawa Party, could nominate a candidate if it withdrew al-Jaafari, but it was unclear whether Dawa officials would be able to persuade al-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 see those men as weak, like al-Jaafari. "The options are limited for the Dawa Party," Attiyah said.

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

Al-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 victimization under Saddam's government. U.S. and Iraqi officials say they hope the formation of a unified government will help stanch the sectarian bloodletting that has gripped Iraq. In the power vacuum, the rate of killings has soared.

Yesterday afternoon, a suicide car bomb detonated outside the Shemal restaurant in the town of Mahmudiya, killing at least 10 and injuring at least 25, police officials said.

Guerrillas in Anbar Province, to the west, carried out assaults that killed four Marines in two incidents Saturday, the U.S. military said Sunday.

A British soldier was killed and three injured in a bomb explosion Saturday, the British Defense Ministry said.

Early yesterday, U.S.-led forces raided a home in the town of Yusufiya, the U.S. military said in a statement. During an 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 raid was to search for a suspected al-Qaida member, 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 injured four others. Policemen found three bodies in the Tigris River, all shot in the head.

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 U.S. military. He added that he did not know their condition. At least nine other policemen were killed and seven wounded in the nighttime attack.

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