Top Iraqi Officials Growing Restless

By Joshua Partlow and Robin Wright
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 21, 2007

BAGHDAD, June 20 -- Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, a senior Shiite politician often mentioned as a potential prime minister, tendered his resignation last week in a move that reflects deepening frustration inside the Iraqi government with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Other senior Iraqi officials have considered resigning in recent weeks over the failures of their government to make progress after more than a year in power, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials.

Abdul Mahdi said he was provoked by the second bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra on June 13, in which he said corrupt police abetted Sunni insurgents. "The two minarets were as important to us as September 11, and we should be accountable to the people," Abdul Mahdi said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "We should be doing more to move in a positive direction -- on corruption, accountability and defending the important sites."

Abdul Mahdi's attempted resignation, which has been held at bay by promises of action, is also a sign of growing disarray among the Shiites who lead the government.

As the U.S. military attempts to show the success this summer of a security plan to pacify the capital and other parts of the country, Iraq's prime minister has also entered what many officials say is a crucial test period for his government. A growing number of Iraqi leaders, including several fellow Shiites, are expressing discontent with Maliki's ability to stanch the bloodshed, contain civil war, make progress on economic fronts and share power with the minority Sunnis.

"It's all about what is perceived to be Maliki's centralizing control with the inner circles of the Dawa party and also not taking on the country's tough challenges," said a senior Iraqi politician, referring to the prime minister's party. The politician said he had read Abdul Mahdi's resignation letter but would not speak for attribution. "There is growing frustration about the leadership of this country."

The prime minister's advisers insist that Maliki remains committed to national unity, that his position is secure and that calls for his removal threaten to undermine the fledgling democratic experiment in Iraq. The responsibility for any failures of this government, aides say, would rest equally among the rival factions and not just on the prime minister.

"We have noticed, since the start of the Baghdad security operation, people have opened fire on the Maliki government," said Yaseen Majeed, a Maliki spokesman. "Whoever wants to change the government should go to parliament, and follow the constitutional, democratic methods, by forming a new bloc, if they are true believers in democracy. Otherwise, we see this propaganda campaign as an attempt to discredit the Maliki government, and we reject that."

Maliki's political benefactor, radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has again withdrawn his followers in parliament in the wake of the Samarra bombing. The leader of Sadr's legislative bloc, Nasar al-Rubaie, said that "the Maliki government will surely collapse if the situation continues as it is right now."

Humam Hamoudi, a senior leader of another powerful Shiite faction, the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq, said that "these two months will give a strong indication on the issue of his continuation, or whether we go into the crisis of looking for another prime minister."

"Everybody wants him to succeed," Hamoudi added. "Rather, I should say, many, not everybody."

Maliki's government has failed so far to push through major laws demanded by the U.S. government as a means of promoting national reconciliation. These so-called benchmarks include laws governing oil resources and the reintegration of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party into the government, and constitutional amendments to afford more influence to Sunnis.

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