- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2006

Iraq’s main Shi’ite bloc is to vote today or tomorrow on whether to replace Ibrahim al-Jaafari as its nominee for prime minister in an attempt to break a four-month stalemate that has paralyzed Iraq.

Political leaders tentatively have agreed to keep Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as president, and appoint Sunni politician Tareq al-Hashemi and Shi’ite leader Adil Abdul-Mahdi as vice presidents, Shi’ite and Kurdish officials said yesterday.

There are two main candidates to replace Mr. al-Jaafari, said Zakia Hakki, a member of one of seven parties that make up the Shi’ite United Iraqi Alliance.

Both candidates, Ali al-Adib and Jawad al-Maliki, are members of Mr. al-Jaafari’s Dawa party.

“Tomorrow we will see which one is the best among them,” said Mrs. Hakki in a telephone interview from Baghdad.

Sunni and Kurdish parties had balked at having Mr. al-Jaafari continue as prime minister after he failed to end the violence, chaos and corruption during his yearlong tenure.

Under intense Iraqi and U.S. pressure to give up plans for a second term, Mr. al-Jaafari agreed yesterday to have his nomination reconsidered.

His change of heart came after a series of meetings with Iraq’s most powerful Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, United Nations envoy Ashraf Qazi and radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the Associated Press quoted Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman as saying.

“There was a signal from Najaf,” Mr. Othman said, alluding to Ayatollah al-Sistani’s office in the Shi’ite holy city.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington that there were some indications that the political process was “moving towards a resolution.”

He called for a “a national unity government, that it be a strong government, that it be effective.”

Sectarian violence, bombings and shootings have killed thousands of Iraqis and displaced tens of thousands more since the national elections on Dec. 15.

Mr. Talabani’s chief of staff, Kameron Karadaghi, said he did not think there would be any Kurdish opposition to the new candidates and hoped that either would also be accepted by the Sunni opposition.

“They can’t continue to veto candidates,” Mr. Karadaghi said, also speaking from Baghdad.

But he cautioned that an agreement on the top government posts would still leave critical Cabinet posts at Interior, Defense and Oil ministries to be decided later.

“I anticipate a fight,” he said. “The formation of a government will take some time. It really is a very, very bad situation, but unfortunately this is how it is.”

Candidate Mr. al-Maliki left Iraq in the 1980s for Syria, and some critics consider him too sectarian, the AP reported. Candidate Mr. al-Adib spent most of his time in exile in Iran, and his ties to that country might make him a less palatable candidate for U.S. officials and Sunni Arabs, who fear Iran’s influence in Iraq.

Mr. al-Jaafari won the alliance’s nomination by one vote — that of Sheik al-Sadr — which led some Iraqis to worry that the cleric would have undue influence over the political process.

Mrs. Hakki said Sheik al-Sadr likely would accept whatever new candidate gets nominated, but said Mr. al-Jaafari was the only politician who had any level of influence over the firebrand anti-U.S. cleric.

For the Sunnis, the expected vote is something of a victory.

“We had no problem with Mr. al-Jaafari as a person, but as a leader he failed in everything,” said Issam al-Rawi, a member of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars and head of the Association of University Lecturers.

“The country got worse and worse every day. More than 200 professors have been assassinated,” he said from Baghdad.

“Any leader who failed in his responsibility must leave and leave it to another person to lead the country,” Mr. al-Rawi said.

He also called on Sunnis to come to the table once Mr. al-Jaafari is replaced and get the political process back on track.

“The Sunnis must accept the other choice for the benefit of our people. Truly I hope they will accept,” Mr. al-Rawi said.

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