Iraqi leaders worked Saturday to resolve their impasse over who will rule the country, with a secular coalition proposing an emergency government that would supersede election results and Shiite clerics conferring on how best to preserve their sect’s newfound power.
Politicians remained deadlocked over Sunni Arab and Kurdish opposition to Ibrahim Jafari, the main Shiite Muslim coalition’s nominee for prime minister. The crisis has created a political vacuum, stalling crucial reconstruction projects and contributing to the country’s security woes.
Top Shiite clerics in Najaf were deep in discussion over whether to intervene more forcefully, an official at the clergy’s office said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The clergy’s aim, said the official, is to prevent the choice for prime minister from being made by the entire parliament, where Shiite politicians are short of a majority. The clerics also want to prevent the formation of a “salvation” government as proposed Saturday by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, the official said.
“They want to solve this crisis before there is an even bigger one,” said the official.
Late last week, Mohammed Ridha Sistani, the son of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, secured a commitment from radical cleric Muqtada Sadr not to object if the Shiites jettison Jafari, whom Sadr has supported.
Officials in the Shiite coalition, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there had been a concerted effort to remove Jafari. But party leaders still sought an alternate nominee, possibly a less-known figure from Jafari’s Islamic Dawa Party.
Allawi, a onetime CIA protege and leader of a secular coalition with 25 seats in parliament, said in a statement broadcast on Iraqi television that political leaders might have to create an emergency government “that is capable of bringing Iraq to its feet and save it from its current deadly crisis.”
Such a government could include political groups that didn’t win seats in the election and be based on a political agreement rather than the constitution, said Adnan Pachachi, a leading politician in Allawi’s coalition.
Many secular and moderate politicians who came to prominence in the initial period after the U.S.-led invasion failed to win seats in parliament in the December election. Iraqis voted heavily for coalitions based on ethnic or religious identities.
“It would be a genuine, effective partnership between all the political forces in the country,” Pachachi said in an interview. “It would not necessarily be based on the results of the election, which we do not think reflected the voters’ will, anyway.”
Most Shiite religious and political leaders strongly oppose such a government, which they worry could deprive the Shiites of power even though they are a majority in the country.
Kurds, Sunnis and Allawi’s followers oppose Jafari, saying he has been ineffective, bossy and uncommunicative during his year as interim premier. In recent weeks, Shiites within Jafari’s coalition have also begun to speak out against him.
Shiites, Sunni Arabs and autonomy-minded Kurds have been jostling violently for power since the U.S.-led invasion brought down Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led government three years ago.
A car bomb Saturday near a restaurant frequented by Iraqi police in a Shiite district of eastern Baghdad killed five people and injured 23.
New insurgent violence also broke out in volatile Al Anbar province, the heart of the country’s Sunni Arab-led insurgency.
A U.S. intelligence officer said violence throughout Al Anbar province was down this year compared with last year. But hot spots persist.
A U.S. convoy struck a roadside bomb on a rural road 10 miles south of Fallouja, and civilians were hurt in the ensuing crossfire, witnesses said. U.S. troops in a convoy also came under attack in a village between Fallouja and Ramadi the previous night, Iraqi officials said.
Four Fallouja government officials have been killed this year by insurgents, including City Council President Shakur Kamel, who was regarded as one of the town’s most charismatic new leaders.
Marine Col. Larry Nicholson said that 70% of Fallouja was under Iraqi control. But Fallouja Mayor Dhari Abdul Hadi, who has escaped several assassination attempts, said that security in the city was worse now than last year.
“The problem is that the government [in Baghdad] is supposed to direct the police force,” he said. “But if there’s no unity government, then the police won’t do their jobs properly and areas like ours can have no security.”
Civilians also were injured in a clash between U.S. forces and gunmen near Ramadi’s soccer stadium, a frequent area of violence in the war-torn provincial capital, police and hospital officials said. Official casualty figures and details of the incidents remain unclear.
The U.S. military reported that a Marine died Friday in a motor vehicle accident, and Britain’s Defense Ministry said a bomb killed a British soldier Saturday north of Basra.
Times staff writer Solomon Moore in Al Asad and special correspondents in Basra, Fallouja, Najaf and Ramadi contributed to this report.