By John Ward Anderson and Omar Fekeiki
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, March 5, 2006
BAGHDAD, March 4 -- The president of Iraq and the country's leading coalition of Sunni Arab parties added their voices Saturday to a growing chorus of top politicians and political parties urging the ruling alliance of Shiite parties to reconsider its nominee for prime minister in favor of someone who would attract broader support.
The Shiite coalition, known as the United Iraqi Alliance, "has the right of nominating, not the right of appointing" the prime minister, President Jalal Talabani said at a news conference.
Talabani, a Kurd, stopped short of opposing the Shiites' candidate, Ibrahim al-Jafari, who has served for nearly a year as interim prime minister. Jafari was nominated almost three weeks ago by the alliance to continue in his post in the next government. But Talabani made clear that he favored someone different, saying: "We want a national unity government, which means not imposing someone. . . . This does not mean intervention in their affairs, but it is a suggestion."
The Kurdish coalition in parliament, of which Talabani is a senior leader, wrote to the Shiite alliance this past week demanding that Jafari's candidacy be withdrawn.
Also on Saturday, Adnan al-Dulaimi, a senior leader of the Sunni Arab coalition in parliament, the Iraqi Accordance Front, revealed that it, too, sent a letter to the Shiite alliance on Thursday "asking them to change their candidate" because of his "failure in running the country." Dulaimi said the letter listed numerous complaints against Jafari, such as "security, infrastructure, unemployment, killings, raids against mosques, and his inability to solve the problems the country is facing," including a rash of violence that followed the bombing of the Shiite Askariya mosque in Samarra, north of Baghdad, on Feb. 22.
All of the political parties in Iraq are under intense pressure, both from the United States and among themselves, to create a unified government, including as many parties as possible as a way of lowering the level of sectarian violence in Iraq.
It was unclear how far the different parties would go in pressing their demands. Negotiations over the formation of the government have been underway since shortly after the Dec. 15 elections -- in which the Shiites won 130 seats, the largest block in the 275-member parliament -- and are expected to continue for weeks.
"This is a political demand, and it is supported by the democracy that we all want to commit ourselves to," Dulaimi said. "We insist on participating in the next government. Therefore, if they don't change their candidate, we have the ability to take this nomination down in the parliament" presuming the Kurds, Sunnis and secular parties vote together.
Jafari won his nomination by a one-vote margin, largely because of the backing of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and it is unclear whether the alliance will dump him. But there has been growing disenchantment within the alliance over his leadership.
Sheik al-Yaqubi, the spiritual head of the Fadhila Party, a member of the alliance, criticized Jafari and other politicians during his Friday sermon this week "for their failure to save the country from the mess it is in."
Meanwhile, violence continued in Iraq on Saturday. Seven people were killed and more than 20 were injured in a bomb blast at a bus station in a town just southeast of Baghdad. Nearby, two people were killed and 10 injured when a car exploded at a security checkpoint, police said.
In Baqubah, northeast of the capital, a 7-year-old girl was killed and eight people were injured when a bomb exploded in an audio recording shop.
Special correspondent Hassan Shammari in Baqubah contributed to this report.