BAGHDAD, Iraq – Leaders of Sunni, Kurdish and a secular political party decided Wednesday to ask the Shiite alliance to withdraw its nomination of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari for another term, political officials said.
The move is expected to draw sharp opposition from radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose support enabled al-Jaafari to win the nomination by a single vote in a Feb. 12 caucus of Shiites who won election to the new parliament Dec. 15.
A political battle over al-Jaafari could further complicate efforts to form a national unity government — a key step in the U.S. plan to begin withdrawing its troops this year. Those efforts have been strained by a wave of sectarian violence triggered by the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine.
Al-Jaafari's critics believe the 58-year-old former exile is an obstacle to a unity government.
According to several senior politicians, leaders of the three parties agreed to inform Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Shiite alliance, that they lack confidence in al-Jaafari and want the Shiites to put forth another candidate.
The plan was confirmed to The Associated Press by three key political figures who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. Earlier this week, other politicians said a move against al-Jaafari was under discussion.
On Wednesday, the leader of the Sunni bloc, Adnan al-Dulaimi, confirmed a meeting had taken place among the three political parties but would not explicitly say they agreed to seek al-Jaafari's replacement.
"Political clashes have many considerations," al-Dulaimi said. "There shouldn't be any obstacles when it comes to the interest of the country. We spoke with many parties to unite our stances for the good of Iraq and came out with a unified position."
Al-Dulaimi added that "it is our constitutional right to raise objections about an individual." He would not elaborate.
Under the law, the candidate of the largest bloc in parliament gets first crack at forming a new Cabinet. The Shiites won 130 of the 275 seats in the December election — making them the largest faction, but without enough support to govern without partners.
The three parties who decided to seek al-Jaafari's replacement also included the group led by ex-Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite whose nonsectarian party won 25 seats in December. The three blocs said to be involved in the move together control 133 seats — enough to prevent the Shiites from forming a government.
Allawi's spokesman, Izzat Shabandar, told the AP the parties would send a letter to the Shiite alliance outlining obstacles to forming a government. "Al-Jaafari says he wants a national unity government, where in fact he wants a government divided according to how (many seats) each bloc has. The ball is in the alliance's court," Shabandar said.
Many Sunnis blame al-Jaafari for failing to rein in commandoes of the Shiite-led Interior Ministry alleged to have committed widespread human rights abuses against them. Kurds are angry at al-Jaafari for allegedly dragging his heels on resolution of their claims around the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
Relations between al-Jaafari and President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, have been strained. On Tuesday, Talabani expressed "surprise" that al-Jaafari had paid a visit to Turkey "without informing all sides in the Iraqi government" as, the president claimed, was required by law.
Al-Jaafari said the visit was legal and that he was working in the interests of all Iraqis.
Al-Jaafari, a member of the Shiite Dawa party, defeated al-Hakim's candidate Adil Abdul-Mahdi in the Feb. 12 caucus vote thanks to al-Sadr's support. The mercurial young cleric controls 30 of the 130 Shiite alliance seats and has strong influence with another bloc, Fadhila, which holds an additional 15 seats.
However, the rise of al-Sadr has alarmed many key Shiite leaders because of his control of an armed militia and his strong anti-American stand.
Al-Sadr's militiamen have been blamed for many of the reprisal attacks on Sunni mosques that followed the Samarra bombing, although he denied any role and called for calm. However, the sectarian strife has raised new fears about the growing influence of al-Sadr within the Shiite community.
Those fears were heightened by al-Sadr's role in the prime minister's renomination.