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Support eroding for reappointment of Iraqi prime minister

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Opposition is growing to reappointing Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, just days after he narrowly won the support of his political slate, the United Iraqi Alliance, for the job.

Some members of the United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shiite Muslim political parties, are talking with Sunni Muslim, Kurdish and secular political leaders about voting against al-Jaafari when the 275-member National Assembly elects a new leader, several assembly members from those sects said.

Those who oppose al-Jaafari are uncomfortable at the prospect of a government with close ties to Iraq's conservative Shiite religious establishment, supported by allies of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and with ties to Iran. Some also think that al-Jaafari dealt ineffectively with Iraq's deteriorating security situation as interim prime minister.

"All this emanates from the fact that we need a government of national unity. We can't have a religious government," former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said in an interview. "It has to be an all Iraqi government. It has to be liberal ... and everybody is incorporated."

Haidar Ibadi, a senior al-Jaafari adviser, denied that there was a split and said the current prime minister was committed to creating a coalition government.

If just one party from the United Iraqi Alliance split away and opposed al-Jaafari, the assembly members would have a simple majority, enough votes to block his nomination.

"There is a movement to form a bloc bigger than the United Iraqi Alliance to block al-Jaafari," said Saleh al-Mutlaq, a top Sunni politician and a member of the National Dialogue Council, a Sunni political party. "We will form a bloc that will nominate a prime minister and will support him to form a government. I believe there is a 50-50 chance."

While such a move would require cooperation among Iraq's often-feuding ethnic groups—a goal that the United States strongly endorses—the politicians have yet to agree on an alternative candidate. Overcoming their political differences to form a unity government would prove an even greater challenge.

The growing opposition to al-Jaafari introduces a new element of uncertainty into Iraq's chaotic politics and could further delay the formation of a permanent government. Iraq's elections were more than two months ago, and the United States saw them as a key opportunity to broaden the government and defeat the insurgency.

"The Iraqi political map will change," said Safia Taleb al-Souhail, a member of Allawi's Iraqi List, which is among those considering an opposition bloc. "This is about the future and who will have power in our society."

When the slate named al-Jaafari its candidate for prime minister, many assumed that he'd be the country's first permanent prime minister since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, because his slate won 128 seats in the new government.

But al-Jaafari won his slate's support by just one vote, and the United Iraqi Alliance showed signs of fracturing immediately after picking him.

The slate is made up of four major parties, and two of them—the Fadilya Party and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq—supported the more secular Vice President Adil Abdel Mahdi for prime minister, a SCIRI member who's seen as a more widely accepted choice. They were angry that Sadrists, who are led by radical cleric al-Sadr and are new to the coalition, tipped the vote in al-Jaafari's favor.

Fadilya and SCIRI are very serious about possibly walking away, al-Souhail said.

Some Kurdish leaders, who previously had supported al Jaafari, said they feared that Sadrists would have too much power in an al-Jaafari-led government.

"If the Sadrists have all the veto power, that would be really wrong. There should be a national program and a mechanism in which everybody approves," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish National Assembly member.

Those now discussing opposing al-Jaafari's nomination said he could gain their support only by offering a more secular, modern platform, a move that would upset the Sadrists and other Islamists.

"I think there is a change in Jaafari's point of view, but it's only words. We have to see some action," Othman said.

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondent Zaineb Obeid contributed to this report from Baghdad.)

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Jaafari

Iraq

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