Baghdad, Iraq The Shiite alliance nominated a tough-talking Shiite politician, Jawad al-Maliki, as prime minister Friday in a move that breaks the long impasse over forming a new government aimed at pulling Iraq out of its sectarian strife.
Al-Maliki replaces outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, whose attempt to stay for a second term had raised sharp opposition from Sunni Arab and Kurdish leaders and caused a deadlock that lasted months as the country's security crisis worsened in the wake of December's election.
Sunni and Kurdish politicians signaled they would accept al-Maliki - a close ally of al-Jaafari in the Shiite Dawa Party - clearing the way for parliament today to elect top leadership positions, including the president, and launch the process of putting together a government.
U.S. and Iraqi officials hope that a national unity government representing Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds will be able to quell the Sunni-led insurgency and bloody Shiite-Sunni violence that has raged during the political uncertainty. If it succeeds, it could enable the U.S. to begin bringing home its 133,000 troops.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the Bush administration was hopeful that the latest political developments in Iraq would lead to significant progress in forming a permanent government.
Violence continued Friday with at least 21 people killed, including six in a car bombing in Tal Afar and six off-duty Iraqi soldiers slain in Beiji, police said. The U.S. military said a Marine was fatally injured in combat Thursday in Anbar province.
Al-Maliki has a reputation as a hardline, outspoken defender of the Shiite stance - raising questions about whether he will be able to negotiate the delicate sectarian balancing act.
From exile in Syria in the 1980s and 1990s, he directed Dawa guerrillas fighting Saddam Hussein's regime. Since returning home after Saddam's fall, he has been a prominent member of the commission purging former Baath Party officials from the military and government. Sunni Arabs, who made up the backbone of Saddam's ousted party, deeply resent the commission.