Archive for Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Bid to convene parliament falls short

March 7, 2006

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— Iraq's president failed in a bid Monday to order parliament into session by March 12, further delaying formation of a government and raising questions whether the political process can withstand the unrelenting violence or disintegrate into civil war.

The deadlock came as snipers assassinated Maj. Gen. Mibder Hatim al-Dulaimi, the Sunni Arab in charge of Iraqi forces protecting the capital. A torrent of bombings and shootings killed 25 more Iraqis on Monday, ending a relative lull in violence.

At the heart of the dispute is a controversy over the second-term candidacy of the Shiite prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, whose most powerful supporter is the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The Sunni Arab minority blames al-Jaafari for failing to control the Shiite militiamen who attacked Sunni mosques and clerics after the Feb. 22 shrine bombing in Samarra. Kurds are angry because they believe al-Jaafari is holding up resolution of their claims to control the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

In a bid to force a showdown in the dispute, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, announced he would order parliament to convene Sunday for the first time since the elections in December and the ratification of the results on Feb. 12.

Such a meeting would have started a 60-day countdown for the legislators to elect a president, approve al-Jaafari's nomination as prime minister and sign off on his Cabinet.

Talabani was mistakenly counting on the signature of Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, who lost his own bid for the prime minister's nomination by one vote to al-Jaafari. Talabani had in hand a power of attorney from the other vice president, Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni, who was out of the country.

The Shiite bloc closed ranks and Abdul-Mahdi declined to sign, at least for now. In an emergency meeting with Talabani on Monday, seven Shiite leaders rejected the president's demand for them to abandon al-Jaafari's nomination.

It remained unclear when parliament might convene, despite the constitutional directive that set Sunday as the deadline. Nor was it clear how the disagreement over al-Jaafari might be settled.

The president first issued the challenge Wednesday in concert with Sunni Arab and some secular politicians.

"We want a prime minister who can gather all the political blocs around him, so that the government would be one of national unity," Talabani told reporters in Baghdad around midday Monday.

Leaders of all Iraq's major political factions scheduled a meeting this evening in an attempt to untangle the religious and sectarian differences behind the crisis, deeply compounded by continuing violence.

The attacks underscore the dangerous leadership vacuum and fresh political infighting that have torn apart many tenuous political bonds among the country's many religious and ethnic factions.

There also were increasing signs of a split in the Shiite factions, even though they managed to come together Monday night to reject the move to dump al-Jaafari.

There were reports that al-Sadr had threatened to order parliamentarians loyal to him to boycott a Sunday session if Abdul-Mahdi, the Shiite vice president, had signed the Talabani order to convene the legislature.

Nevertheless, al-Sadr, the firebrand cleric whose backing had ensured al-Jaafari's nomination at the Shiite caucus last month, predicted a "quick solution" on approving a government. "All obstacles to forming a national unity government soon will be resolved," al-Sadr said after meeting with Deputy Prime Minister and acting Oil Minister Ahmad Chalabi.

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