Talks Under Way to Replace Iraq PM

The Associated Press
Sunday, December 10, 2006; 6:29 PM

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Major partners in Iraq's governing coalition are in behind-the-scenes talks to oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki amid discontent over his failure to quell raging violence, according to lawmakers involved.

The talks are aimed at forming a new parliamentary bloc that would seek to replace the current government and that would likely exclude supporters of the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is a vehement opponent of the U.S. military presence.

The new alliance would be led by senior Shiite politician Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who met with President Bush last week. Al-Hakim, however, was not expected to be the next prime minister because he prefers the role of powerbroker, staying above the grinding day-to-day running of the country.

A key figure in the proposed alliance, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, left for Washington on Sunday for a meeting with Bush at least three weeks ahead of schedule.

"The failure of the government has forced us into this in the hope that it can provide a solution," said Omar Abdul-Sattar, a lawmaker from al-Hashemi's Iraqi Islamic Party. "The new alliance will form the new government."

The groups engaged in talks have yet to agree on a leader, said lawmaker Hameed Maalah, a senior official of al-Hakim's Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI.

One likely candidate for prime minister, however, was said to be Iraq's other vice president, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite who was al-Hakim's choice for the prime minister's job before al-Maliki emerged as a compromise candidate and won.

News of the bid to oust al-Maliki, in office since May, came amid growing dissent over his government's performance among his Sunni and Shiite partners and the damaging fallout from a leaked White House memo questioning the prime minister's abilities.

Washington also has been unhappy with al-Maliki's reluctance to comply with its repeated demands to disband Shiite militias blamed for much of Iraq's sectarian bloodletting.

Bush publicly expressed his confidence in al-Maliki after talks in Jordan on Nov. 30. But the president told White House reporters four days later that he was not satisfied with the pace of efforts to stop Iraq's violence.

It was not immediately clear how much progress had been made in the effort to cobble together a new parliamentary alliance. But lawmakers loyal to al-Sadr who support al-Maliki were almost certainly not going to be a part of it. They had no word on al-Maliki's Dawa party.

They said al-Maliki was livid at the attempt to unseat him.

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