Iraq PM Abandons Claim on Another Term
Iraq PM Abandons Claim on Another Term
By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer 1 minute
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Bowing to intense pressure, Prime
Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari agreed Thursday to allow
Shiite lawmakers to find someone else to head the new
government, abandoning his claim on another term in
the face of Sunni and Kurdish opposition.
Al-Jaafari's abrupt reversal was an apparent
breakthrough in the monthslong struggle to form a
national unity government. The Bush administration
hopes such a government will curb Iraq's slide toward
anarchy and enable the U.S. to start bringing home its
Leaders in the seven-party Shiite alliance, the
largest bloc in the 275-member parliament, were to
meet Friday to begin choosing a replacement. But their
field of candidates lacks stature and power, raising
questions whether the new prime minister will be any
more successful than al-Jaafari in confronting
sectarian violence and the brutal insurgency.
It was unclear why al-Jaafari suddenly decided to
relinquish the nomination that he won by a single vote
with backing from radical anti-American cleric Muqtada
al-Sadr during a ballot among Shiite lawmakers two
months ago. Al-Jaafari had insisted Wednesday that
stepping aside was "out of the question."
But in a letter Thursday to the executive committee of
the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite coalition,
al-Jaafari wrote that he was prepared to "make any
sacrifice to achieve" the organization's goals. "I
tell you, you chose me, and I return this choice to
you to do as you see fit."
"I cannot allow myself to be an obstacle, or appear to
be an obstacle," al-Jaafari said in an emotional
address on national television. He said he agreed to a
new vote so that his fellow Shiite lawmakers "can
think with complete freedom and see what they wish to
However, Kurdish politician Mahmoud Othman said
al-Jaafari's change of heart followed meetings
Wednesday in the Shiite holy city of Najaf between
U.N. envoy Ashraf Qazi and both al-Sadr and Grand
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the nation's most
prestigious Shiite cleric.
"There was a signal from Najaf," Othman told The
Associated Press. "Qazi's meetings with (al-Sistani)
and al-Sadr were the chief reason that untied the
Aides to al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of the
Shiite alliance, said the ayatollah was frustrated
over the deadlock in forming a government and alarmed
over the rise in sectarian violence that followed the
Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean
McCormack said there were "indications" the impasse
would be resolved. He called for a strong and
effective government that could "begin to repay the
trust put in the political parties and the political
leaders by the Iraqi people."
Many Shiite politicians had been quietly pressing
al-Jaafari to step down, but were reluctant to force
him out for fear it would shatter the Shiite alliance
and make the coalition appear weak.
Stepping up the pressure this month, Secretary of
Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack
Straw flew to Baghdad and demanded quick action to
resolve the impasse. However, several Iraqi figures
complained the U.S. and British intervention had
prompted al-Jaafari's supporters to dig in their heels
against what many Iraqis considered foreign
Shiite alliance leaders were to meet Friday to decide
how to choose a nominee. If representatives of the
seven alliance parties cannot reach a consensus on a
single candidate, they will put several choices to a
vote before the bloc's 130 parliament members
Saturday, officials said.
It was unclear whether al-Jaafari's supporters would
insist on his being among any candidates put to a
vote, since he did not explicitly say he was out of
The final choice would be presented to parliament
As the largest bloc in parliament with 130 seats, the
Shiite alliance gets to name the prime minister
subject to parliament approval.
But the Shiites lack the votes to guarantee their
candidate's approval unless they have the backing of
the Sunnis and Kurds, whom they need as partners to
Sunnis and Kurds blame al-Jaafari for the increasing
sectarian tensions and for failing to consult his
coalition partners. Kurds accused him of failing to
keep commitments over oil-rich Kirkuk, which the Kurds
want to incorporate into their three-province
self-ruled region in the north.
With the issue over the premiership nearing
resolution, Sunni and Kurdish politicians expressed
optimism that the new government could be formed
"I am confident we will succeed in forming the
national unity government that all Iraqis are hoping
for," Sunni elder statesman Adnan Pachachi told
Bassem Sharif, a prominent Shiite lawmaker, said the
alliance "is leaning toward" replacing al-Jaafari.
"The majority opinion is in favor of this."
Names most often mentioned as possible replacements
include two members of al-Jaafari's Dawa party, Ali
al-Adeeb and Jawad al-Maliki. Neither is widely known
among Iraqis, and neither has extensive experience in
administration or government.
Al-Maliki, who fled Iraq in the 1980s and settled in
Syria, is considered more of a Shiite hard-liner than
al-Jaafari. Al-Adeeb lived for many years in
Iran before returning to Iraq after the collapse of
Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003.
Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi is among the most
capable and experienced Shiite figures but is
considered unlikely for the post because of opposition
within the alliance to a nominee from the biggest
party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution
in Iraq, or SCIRI. Abdul-Mahdi lost to al-Jaafari in
the February vote.
Despite the optimism, much could still go wrong. The
parties must work out how to divvy up ministries
particularly the powerful defense, interior and oil
Whoever gets the prime minister's job will face
enormous problems, not only in coping with sectarian
violence, the armed insurgency and a crumbling economy
but also in maneuvering between SCIRI's powerful
leader, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, and al-Sadr.
Al-Hakim and al-Sadr come from two of the most
prestigious Shiite families, and each aspires to
leadership of the majority Shiite community. Armed
militias affiliated with the two men are engaged in an
intense struggle for power in towns and cities
throughout the Shiite heartland south of Baghdad.
Al-Hakim's party controls the Interior Ministry, whose
commandos have been blamed by many Sunni Arabs for
harboring death squads that target Sunni civilians.
Al-Sadr's Mahdi militia was believed responsible for
many of the attacks against Sunni mosques following
the Samarra bombing.
Associated Press reporter Qassim Abdul-Zahra
contributed to this report.