Friday, April 21, 2006

al-Jaafari ally picked as new Iraqi PM candidate

The new Iraqi candidate for Prime Minister is Jawad al-Maliki , replacing al-Jaafari in a bid to clear the way for the long-delayed new Iraqi government.

Al-Maliki is a close ally of outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, whose nomination sparked sharp opposition from Sunni Arab and Kurdish leaders and caused a months long deadlock .

Leaders of the Shiite alliance agreed on al-Maliki's nomination in a meeting Friday evening, said Jalal Eddin al-Sagheer, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the largest party in the alliance.

If Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties accept al-Maliki, it could be a breakthrough in the standoff that has prevented the forming of a national unity government.

Al-Maliki is a top figure in al-Jaafari's Dawa party and has often been al-Jaafari's spokesman. he's something of an unknown...he fled Iraq in the 1980s, settling in Syria and working in Dawa's political office. He returned to Iraq after Saddam fell in 2003.

Al-Maliki was a top official in the commission in charge of purging members of Saddam's Baath Party from the military and government. Sunnis, who made up the majority of the Baath Party, considered the commission a means of squeezing them out of power and influence in Iraq.

In spite of that, the buzz is that the Sunnis and Kurds appear willing to take al-Maliki, after fiercely opposing a second term for al-Jaafari, who agreed to bow out Thursday.

The power behind the scenes, Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is reputed to have pulled the plug on Jaafari, saying that he should go, according to my sources.

Al-Jaafari had held out for weeks against increasing pressure on him to step aside.

Sunni and Kurdish parties refused to join any government headed by al-Jaafari.

This could signal a breakthough in forming a new Iraqi government...something the Bush administration hopes will curb Iraq's slide toward sectarian breakup and chaosy and enable the U.S. to begin bringing home most of its 133,000 troops.

Stay tuned...

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