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Shi'ite rivals say Bush wants Iraq PM Jaafari out

Written by: Staff

Baghdad, Mar 28: A senior Iraqi politician from a rival Shi'ite party to Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said today that US President George W. Bush had made clear he did not want Jaafari to lead a new government of national unity.

Bush had written to Shi'ite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim urging him to nominate someone else, Rida Jawad al-Takki, an aide to Hakim, said in a statement telephoned to Reuters.

Takki said the letter was transmitted by US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been trying to broker agreement among Shi'ite, Kurdish and Sunni Arab leaders on a unity government.

''George Bush sent a letter via Khalilzad to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, as head of the Alliance, telling him that George Bush does not wish or want Ibrahim al-Jaafari to be prime minister,'' Takki, who is from Hakim's SCIRI party, said.

A spokeswoman for the US embassy said she was unaware of such a communication and said it was not US policy to interfere in the process of forming a government: ''This is an Iraqi decision,'' she said.

The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) is the biggest party within the United Iraqi Alliance bloc, which includes Jaafari's Dawa party.

The Alliance, which won the most seats in parliament after a December election, has the right to nominate the prime minister.

Jaafari won the nomination to a second term by a single vote in an internal ballot of Alliance lawmakers last month, edging out SCIRI candidate Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Publicly, SCIRI officials say they continue to back Jaafari.

But opposition from minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds to the interim premier has caused deadlock in talks on forming a government, more than three months after the election.

Hakim has publicly criticised what he has called US interference and specifically Khalilzad's role in Iraq, where political leaders see him as a key player in negotiations.

But there are indications Shi'ite rivals are ready to try to drop Jaafari to break the impasse. Iraqi political sources have also said Washington does not want Jaafari to continue.

The same sources say Jaafari has backing from Iran and note the crucial support he received in the voting from Moqtada al-Sadr, an Iranian-backed cleric and militia leader.

Khalilzad is expected to hold talks with Iranian officials in unusual talks between Washington and Tehran in an effort to help stabilise Iraq under a national unity government.


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