Iraqi Parties Unite to Derail Shiite Leader's Nomination
Friday, March 3, 2006
BAGHDAD, March 2 -- Political parties in Iraq stepped up their efforts Thursday to derail the selection of the ruling Shiite Muslim coalition's nominee for prime minister, threatening to prolong the process of forming a new government but perhaps laying the ground for a more inclusive and widely acceptable one.
Kurdish political parties sent a letter to Shiite coalition leaders Thursday asking them to withdraw their nomination of transitional Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari to retain his post in Iraq's next government, according to Mahmoud Othman, an independent member of parliament representing the Kurdish coalition. Tariq al-Hashimi, a member of the Sunni Arab bloc, said the Sunnis supported the Kurdish position, while a spokesman for the secular party of former prime minister Ayad Allawi, a Shiite, said his group was still studying the issue.
Jafari, who has headed the transitional government here for almost a year, was nominated to take the job permanently two weeks ago by the United Iraqi Alliance coalition, the Shiite bloc that won 130 parliamentary seats, far more than any other group, in elections in December. The alliance selected Jafari by a one-vote margin.
Other political parties, citing what they call Jafari's lackluster job as leader, have argued for a different candidate -- one of several issues that have delayed the formation of a government. Together, the Sunni Arabs, Kurds and secular parties control 133 seats in Iraq's 275-member parliament, enough to derail the candidacy of Jafari, who effectively needs the support of two-thirds of parliament to become prime minister.
The United States is pushing for a broad governing coalition that would include Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish and secular political parties. Such a coalition, U.S. officials hope, would empower all of Iraq's factions, demonstrate that politics is a more effective agent of change than violence and weaken the Sunni-led insurgency that has pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.
The stakes were raised after the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra sparked sectarian clashes in many parts of Iraq, underscoring, many officials here said, the importance of an inclusive government and the urgency of forming it quickly.
The violence, while not as intense, continued Thursday, with at least 38 people killed and 26 wounded in bombings and shootings across the country. The deadliest incidents included the bombing of a market in a Shiite neighborhood in southeastern Baghdad, in which eight people were killed, and a suicide bomb attack aboard a minibus that killed eight passengers in Sadr City, a Shiite neighborhood in the northeast of the capital.
On Thursday morning, gunmen opened fire on the car of a top Sunni political leader, Adnan al-Dulaimi, killing a bodyguard and wounding three others, aides said. They said the incident occurred when Dulaimi's car sustained a flat tire and gunmen emerged from a passing BMW and opened fire as the tire was being changed. Dulaimi had just left the scene in another car and was not injured, they said.
Late Thursday, the government announced that a 6 a.m.-to-4 p.m. ban on private vehicles would be imposed Friday in Baghdad and surrounding areas.
Some politicians said the continuing violence was partly to blame for the erosion of Jafari's support. The prime minister did not have strong backing to begin with, and his performance since the Samarra mosque bombing has weakened his standing further, they said.
Even some Shiites have accused Jafari of ignoring reports of serious security threats to holy sites before the Samarra blast and criticized him for leaving Iraq to visit neighboring Turkey six days after the bombing, as sectarian violence exploded.
Othman, the Kurdish lawmaker, said that in their letter to the Shiites the Kurds cited Jafari's habit of making decisions without informing others as a key reason for their opposition.
"He doesn't share his decision with others, like his last visit to Turkey, which was wrong because he didn't tell his deputy, the president, the minister of foreign affairs. It was a decision he made by himself without going back to the government," Othman said. "Iraq is in a pool of blood and the prime minister left to visit Turkey, while in such a situation there shouldn't be any official outside the country."
It was unclear whether the Shiites would withdraw the nomination of Jafari, who was selected partly on the strength of backing by the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. An aide to Sadr, Riyadh al-Nouri, said the suggestion to drop Jafari was "not appropriate at all."
"If such a decision is to be made, the coming government will fail, since it won't have credibility for violating what the people chose," he said.
Special correspondent Bassam Sebti contributed to this report.