Why the Iraqi Impasse Continues
Why doesn't Iraq have a government yet? Two answers predominate among commentators in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Many in the Arab and Iranian press blame the U.S. occupation, saying the United States and Britain are trying to impose their will on the Shiite parties that won the most seats in December elections.
But Sunni and Kurdish commentators blame incumbent Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari, saying his failure to restore public services and reign in militia violence prevents them from supporting him.
The issue is dominating Middle East debate as the Iraqi parliament prepares to convene on Monday. The Assembly hopes to break the impasse that has endured through weeks of continuing sectarian violence and subsequent fears of civil war in Iraq and the Middle East.
At the heart of the impasse is the arithmetic of division. The coalition of Shiite parties won 128 of 270 seats in Iraq's National Assembly. The Sunni, Kurdish and independent parties won 142 seats. The Shiites need the support of another party to get the 136 votes needed to elect the next prime minister. So far they haven't gotten it, and they are resisting demands that they nominate another candidate.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw went to Baghdad last week to press for a resolution, saying the political vacuum was contributing to the sectarian bloodshed violence. Jafari responded by suggesting to The Guardian of London that their pressure was undemocratic.
Jafari said his candidacy was adopted "by a democratic mechanism and I stand with it ... We have to protect democracy in Iraq and it is democracy which should decide who leads Iraq. We have to respect our Iraqi people."
"People will react if they see the rules of democracy being disobeyed," he continued. "Every politician and every friend of Iraq should not want people to be frustrated. Everyone should stick to democratic mechanisms no matter whether they disagree with the person."
A columnist for Jordan's Al-Dustur was harsher: "The real decisions are taken by the US occupier and its British partner with the foreign ministers of both countries in Baghdad in an attempt to force an Iraqi government."
But Abdul Rahman Rashid, editor of the al Arabiya news network and columnist for the Asharq Alawsat, said it was time for Jafari step aside, "lest he himself becomes the problem. If he fails to depart, he could trigger off a conflict among political parties both inside and outside parliament. If Jaafari, supported by his party, were to continue in power, Iraqis would remain divided over him."
The impasse is testing the unity of the factions that make up the Shiite Coalition: the Dawa Party, led by Jafari, which is considered pro-Iranian; the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is considered more secular; and a group led by the radical cleric Moqtada Sadr.
Jafari and SCIRI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim met for an hour on Wednesday, according to an Iraqi news report translated by Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog, "but failed to reach an agreement a candidate for prime minister. Al-Hakim is said to have clung to the idea of convincing Jaafari to step down in favor of SCIRI candidate Adil Abdul Mahdi."
Mahdi, who lost the nomination by a single vote in February, is favored by the United States, but opposed by Sadr.
On Wednesday, a smaller Shiite party offered to name another candidate, which Reuters said increased pressure on coalition to drop Jafari next week.
Patrick Cockburn, Baghdad correspondent for The Independent of London, says the Shiite leaders "suspect that the US and Britain, backed by the Sunni Arab states of the Middle East, want to rob them of their election victory on December 15 last year by forcing them into an unrepresentative coalition."
The United States "is not likely to succeed in the long term," according to Cockburn. "Attempts to weaken the Shia will, on the contrary, force them to rely on their own powerful militias and drive them into the arms of Iran."
-- Jefferson Morley
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