Talabani rejects call for al-Jaafari to step down

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PRAGUE — Iraqi President Jalal Talabani distanced himself yesterday from a call for the resignation of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, saying the last thing his country needs at this time is more political instability.

“No, I don’t believe that he must resign,” Mr. Talabani said during a press briefing in the Czech capital. With a continuing insurgency and a referendum on the constitution this month, “we don’t think it’s the time for asking for the resignation of the government.”

But Mr. Talabani, head of one of Iraq’s two main Kurdish factions, made clear that he is not happy with the way the prime minister is running the government.

Kurds have accused Mr. al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite, of reneging on several deals with them, including one over the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk. The Kurds hope to re-establish control over the city, which was mainly Kurdish until the “Arabization” programs of dictator Saddam Hussein, who was ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2003.

Mr. al-Jaafari also is accused of stacking delegations abroad with ministers from his alliance of Shi’ite parties.

The latest dispute broke into the open last week when Mr. Talabani’s spokesman said Mr. al-Jaafari should resign because he was monopolizing power and had failed to stick to interparty agreements.

The two leaders came to a power-sharing agreement based, in part, on a mutual desire for a federal Iraq, which would give their respective constituencies greater autonomy from Baghdad.

But beyond that, the two have different worldviews. Mr. Talabani is a progressive secularist, while Mr. al-Jaafari is a pro-Iranian Islamist.

“We must ask him to correct his method of work,” Mr. Talabani said of the prime minister. “We will ask him to respect the law and to respect agreements between the Kurdistan alliance and the Shi’ite alliance.”

Mr. Talabani also said the Oct. 15 referendum would be a sign of progress but cautioned that there is no silver bullet that will make the country’s problems disappear at once.

“The January election was a turning point in Iraq,” he said. “I hope the referendum will be successful. When you have a constitution, you have a foundation” for building a country.

“But,” he concluded, “I don’t say the constitution will solve all the problems of Iraq.”

The Iraqi legislature, acting under pressure from the United Nations yesterday, withdrew a new rule that virtually would have ensured passage of the referendum.

Reversing a Sunday vote, the National Assembly decided that the referendum could be defeated by “no” votes from two-thirds of those casting ballots — as opposed to registered voters — in any three provinces.

The Sunday decision had angered Sunnis, many of whom oppose the draft document. But polling shows that the constitution is likely to clear easily the one-third hurdle even in Iraq’s four Sunni-majority provinces.

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