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Iraq's PM says willing to quit if asked to

Written by: Staff
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BAGHDAD, Mar 16 (Reuters) Iraq's Shi'ite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said today he was willing to withdraw his nomination for a second term if asked to step aside.

''If my people ask me to step aside I will do this,'' Jaafari, who is under increasing pressure from Sunnis, Kurds and secular leaders to allow for another candidate, told a news conference after Iraq's first parliamentary session was convened.

Jaafari, who has been criticised for failing to curb violence, is also coming under mounting pressure from some of his partners in the ruling Shi'ite Alliance, the largest block in parliament, which nominated him in an internal ballot.

Jaafari did not specify who he was referring to when he said ''my people''.

In comments made later to Reuters, Jaafari said it would be finally up to parliament to make a decision.

''I didn't get here as part of a deal. So I can't be pushed aside as part of a deal. It is my people who have chosen me. It will be up to parliament to decide,'' he said.

Under Iraqi law, once the speaker of parliament is elected, the new constitution sets a timetable for forming a government.

A three-man presidency council, consisting of Iraq's president and two vice presidents, must nominate a candidate for prime minister who can then be approved by parliament by a simple majority. If the council fails to agree on the premier, parliament must elect a candidate by a two-thirds majority.

There is a dispute over a timetable for such steps.

Wrangling over the premiership has delayed the formation of a government of national unity seen as the best chance to avoid a civil war as sectarian violence has escalated.

The United States, which has 130,000 troops in Iraq, is pressing Iraqi leaders to break the deadlock. Washington hopes stability will allow it to begin withdrawing troops.

REUTERS SY BST1749

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