Iraqi Sunnis Ask Speaker to Step Down

The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 15, 2006; 9:12 AM

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The head of the main Sunni bloc in parliament called Tuesday for the Sunni speaker of parliament to step down to promote stability within the unity government after Shiite and Kurdish parties insisted on his removal.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the Iraqi Accordance Front, said he has not heard from speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani in several days and did not know if he planned to step aside. Al-Mashhadani, a member of the bloc, was quoted Tuesday by The New York Times as saying he was considering resigning.

If al-Mashhadani "is ready to submit his resignation ... this is good and will help a lot in avoiding a crisis in the country," al-Dulaimi said. "He has not talked to us in this regard yet and of course we will agree with the majority opinion."

Al-Mashhadani spoke to reporters in Jordan, where he was visiting at the invitation of the Jordanian parliament, but did not comment on the calls to remove him from office.

"Iraq must return to the Arab arena and its Arab neighbors and must begin building the bridges of peace of which the Iraqi people were deprived," he said.

The Iraqi Accordance Front, a Sunni bloc that has 44 seats in the 275-member Parliament, and has been under pressure from the dominant Shiite and Kurdish parties to oust al-Mashhadani because of intemperate remarks on the Sunni insurgency and regional self-rule.

"The parliament and the major alliances have the right to request a change," Kurdish politician Mahmoud Othman said. "The Accordance Front should nominate someone else."

Al-Mashhadani's ouster could be done by a vote when the parliament returns from its summer recess on Sept. 1. If he does go he will likely be replaced by another Sunni Arab.

It would be the first major change in the unity government since it took office in May but is unlikely to cause any significant rift since al-Mashhadani lacks strong support even within his own bloc. The post was held by a Sunni since the first parliament was elected in January 2005.

Since taking office in May, al-Mashhadani has spoken out against regional self-rule, strongly supported by Shiites and Kurds but opposed by many Sunni Arabs.

He also told reporters last month that if the government refused to grant amnesty to Sunni insurgents who killed Americans, "we should punish the American soldiers who killed an Iraqi who fought against occupation."

"In my point of view, the person who killed Americans in defense of his country, in other countries, they would build a statue for him," al-Mashhadani added.

Key politicians from the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance said they also want al-Mashhadani ousted, and Wael Abdul Latif, spokesman for the secular bloc of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, said his group opposed the Sunni politician because he is "disrespectful."

"His presence does not help the security situation in Iraq," Abdul Latif said. "He wants to dismiss the will of the people, which has been expressed by the Iraqis through their support to federalism in the constitution."

Al-Mashhadani became further mired in controversy by claiming that "the Jews" were financing acts of violence in Iraq in order to discredit Islamic religious parties that control parliament and the government.

"Some people say, 'We saw you beheading, kidnapping and killing. In the end we even started kidnapping women who are our honor,'" al-Mashhadani said. "These acts are not the work of Iraqis. I am sure that he who does this is a Jew and the son of a Jew."

A power-sharing agreement in the unity government ensures key posts are distributed among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds according to the number of seats they control in parliament.

Salim Abdullah, another member of al-Mashhadani's alliance, said Iraqis want a stable government. "I do not support change, but I cannot support him staying if that's going to have a negative effect," he said.

© 2006 The Associated Press