- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari will be forced out of his post through a vote in the National Assembly if he refuses to step aside voluntarily, a Shi’ite Iraqi legislator said yesterday.

Ongoing political talks could result “in a new surprise,” lawmaker Ayad Jamal al Din told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. He declined to predict who would replace Mr. al-Jaafari, but said it would be someone acceptable to Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds.

Mr. al-Jaafari was nominated to the post by the Shi’ite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, the majority party in the National Assembly. Chosen with the backing of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Mr. al-Jaafari has been unable to form a new government because of objections from Sunnis and Kurds.

Mr. al Din, who is meeting with State Department and congressional officials during a weeklong visit to the United States, said Iran’s influence in Iraq had grown to the point that it is the most important player in the country.

He said that domination was felt in the religious sphere and all other aspects of life. Several Shi’ite religious leaders — including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani and Abdel Aziz Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Resistance in Iraq — spent years in exile in Iran. U.S. officials have accused Tehran of interfering in Iraq’s fledgling democracy.

“It is important to put an end to Iranian intervention,” said Mr. al Din, a Shi’ite and a believer in the separation of mosque and state. He was elected to the National Assembly in December as a member of the largely secular Iraqi National List, the party of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad is to meet in Baghdad on Saturday with top Iranian Foreign Ministry and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps officials, an Iranian government-owned news agency reported.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Mr. al-Jaafari called for the Iran-U.S. talks in a recent meeting with Iran’s charge d’affaires in Iraq, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, the Mehr News Agency reported. An unnamed Iraqi representative reportedly will participate in the talks.

State Department spokesman Curtis Cooper said he had no information about a specific meeting.

“We have nothing new to report regarding any plans for Ambassador Khalilzad to meet with the Iranians,” he said.


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