BAGHDAD,(Reuters) – Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s stubborn fight to stay on as Iraq’s prime minister looked all but over on Tuesday after a party in his main Shi’ite alliance offered to name a replacement to break a four-month-old political deadlock.
The Fadhila party is not a powerful force in the United Iraqi Alliance but its public stance will step up pressure on Shi’ite leaders to drop Jaafari and consider other candidates.
“If the Iraqi Alliance cannot nominate Jaafari, anyone from the Alliance can present their own candidate whom they see as the right person to save the political process and get us out of this impasse,” Fadhila spokesman Sabah al-Saadi told a news conference.
Iraqis elected a new parliament in December, but politicians have failed to form a national unity government despite the urgent need to prevent a surge of sectarian killings from tipping the country into full-scale civil war.
Saadi told Reuters the Alliance was expected to make a final decision on Jaafari at a meeting later on Tuesday.
“If the Alliance does not keep Jaafari we will nominate our own candidate whom we believe can play a significant role in pushing forward the political process because we are a moderate party inside the Alliance,” said Saadi. “We believe our nominee will be accepted by the other parties.”
Fadhila leader Nadim al-Jaberi withdrew from an internal Alliance ballot in February only at the last moment and has since promoted himself as a candidate acceptable to all Iraq’s communities.
The Alliance is expected to bow to intense pressure from Kurdish and Sunni Arab politicians to drop Jaafari, who is also opposed by some Shi’ite leaders within the bloc.
Jaafari’s critics accuse him of monopolising power and ruling ineffectively, but Alliance officials fear removing him could split the bloc at a time when Iraq needs a united leadership to tackle insurgent violence and sectarian tensions.
A spokesman for parliament, which must approve any new prime minister, said a date for the assembly’s next session would be
announced on Wednesday, a possible indication of some movement.
As Iraqis awaited a breakthrough, casualties mounted.
The bodies of four Iraqi soldiers who had been beheaded were found in Jurf al-Sahkar, 80 km (50 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.
In the capital, a bomb attack on a small bus killed three people and wounded four in Sadr City, a stronghold of radical cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, Jaafari’s main supporter in the Alliance outside his own Dawa party.
U.S. President George W. Bush again put his weight behind growing calls for Iraqi leaders to bury their differences and form postwar Iraq’s first full-term government.
“Iraq’s leaders need to rise to the moment, to put aside their personal agendas and take charge of their destiny,” Bush said in a speech in Washington on Monday.
Delaying the formation of a government creates a vacuum that “terrorists” can exploit and slow down progress, he said.
The interim Iraqi cabinet led by Jaafari was expected to discuss on Tuesday comments made by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday that civil war had already started in Iraq.
The Shi’ite-led government has criticised Mubarak for saying Shi’ites were more loyal to non-Arab Iran than to their own Arab countries, echoing accusations made by Sunni Arabs in Iraq.