Monday, March 6, 2006

Iraqi party leaders, deadlocked over whether Ibrahim al-Jaafari should serve another term as prime minister, are considering a plan that would allow him to serve for six months to a year and then review his performance.

The behind-the-scenes wrangling occurred as several bomb attacks around Iraq killed at least nine persons, including children.

“There is no power, there is no government; the country is really in a vacuum,” said a source close to the political negotiations, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The Kurds think that Mr. al-Jaafari has not supported their bid for the northern city of Kirkuk, the Sunnis are trying to weaken the Shi’ite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) — which they think wants to wipe out the Sunni minority — and both are coming together in a political marriage of convenience to put pressure on the UIA, the source said.

For its part, the Shi’ite alliance — with such powerful figures as Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who backed Mr. al-Jaafari — is refusing to back down on its nomination.

If the talks collapse, some party leaders are ready to punt the issue over to the 275-seat National Assembly and put the question of the country’s prime minister to a vote — forcing the political infighting into the open.

“In the coming days, we will see many dramatic political actions … in which we will reach an agreement — or if we cannot reach an agreement with the other slates, we will transfer the whole situation to the parliamentary council,” said Karim al-Musawi, SCIRI’s spokesman in Washington.

President Jalal Talabani said yesterday that he would convene the National Assembly in six days, but there were conflicting reports over whether he had received the required backing of other leaders for the session to proceed.

A Kurdish official familiar with the negotiations said there were two options on the table: taking Mr. al-Jaafari’s nomination to parliament and face the possibility of it being rejected, or have the UIA propose a new candidate for the post of prime minister.

“We want a candidate who can work with all of us and not treat the government as his own,” said the Kurdish official, who described the ongoing talks in Baghdad as “intense.”

But none of the major political slates currently holds the necessary two-thirds majority in the National Assembly to approve any candidate.

“They have to compromise,” the source said.

One suggestion, he said, was to “give Jaafari a chance, then have a six-month or one-year review.”

In violence yesterday, six bombs in Baghdad killed at least nine persons, including two children. A sniper also fatally shot one of Iraq’s most senior army officers, Maj. Gen. Mubdar Hatim al-Dulaimi, as he drove through west Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

In London, newspapers quoted the top British commander in Iraq as saying that Britain’s 8,000 troops could be withdrawn from Iraq by summer 2008, with the first drawdown expected within weeks.

But Lt. Gen. Nick Houghton told the London Daily Telegraph the timetable was “reversible” if Iraq’s political leaders failed to create a stable central government and curb sectarian violence.

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