Power plays preoccupy Iraqi leaders
Officials hope to resolve a protracted battle over the prime ministership this week.
As Shiites prepare to take ownership of Iraq's new government, power struggles over the post of prime minister are exposing the fragility of the winning United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) - as well as a fractious political landscape.Skip to next paragraph
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Islamist Dawa Party leader Ibrahim Jaafari had been heavily favored to take the post last week. But a challenge by the head of the secular Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi, threw the process into extended negotiations, even as Finance Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi first withdrew and then reappeared as a possible compromise candidate.
The protracted dispute is raising concerns about the new government's prospects for dealing with the far more divisive challenge of writing a new constitution - as well as the insurgency and the restoration of basic services.
"Jobs, electricity, and security are what Iraqis need and are demanding, and if this government gets wrapped up in obscure debates about constitutional niceties then this thing will consume them," says Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at Queen Mary University of London. "The great danger is that those 275 individuals will go into the 'green zone' and disappear into the internecine politics of the green zone."
Violence over the weekend, during which Shiites marked the religious holiday of Ashura, underscored the ongoing threats from the insurgency. More than 90 people were killed in two days of attacks. Suicide bombs exploded across Baghdad and other cities Friday and Saturday, targeting Shiites in particular, and including crowds at funerals.
Most of the blame for the country's troubles is still directed at the US. But with the election over - and with Iraqi forces taking more responsibility for security - Iraqis are increasingly expecting results from their leaders.
But progress demands unity among Shiite leaders, say members of the United Iraqi Alliance.And its members' ambitions are threatening to pull the alliance apart. "We didn't realize Chalabi would insist (so strongly) on being prime minister," said one official from the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), adding that he feared the UIA was on the brink of collapse.
Several blocs within the alliance are vying for top government positions. The most powerful are SCIRI and the Dawa Party. Also trying to leverage their power are followers of the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; Mr. Chalabi; and a group of independent candidates who have won the favor of the top Shiite authority in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Over the weekend, SCIRI leader Abdel-Aziz Hakim met with Chalabi and offered to make him the top financial overseer in Iraq, responsible for the oil, trade, and finance ministries in exchange for him withdrawing, according to the SCIRI official. A spokesman for Chalabi confirmed the meeting but would not say what was discussed.
SCIRI members are also trying to keep their man, Adel Abdul Mahdi, in the race, after first withdrawing him last week. The group's members are trying to convince Mr. Hakim to seek support for Mr. Mahdi with interim prime minister Iyad Allawi and Kurdish groups, the next two largest blocs in the national assembly.