BAGHDAD, Iraq – Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari says he is refusing to abandon his bid for a second term to break the deadlock over a new government, and more than 1,000 of his supporters called Wednesday for an end to "U.S. interference" in Iraqi politics.
Although parliament may have to decide al-Jaafari's future, Shiite officials said they are reluctant to dump the issue on lawmakers until there is a comprehensive deal among all ethnic- and religious-based parties, including an agreement on who will be the new president.
That indicated little or no progress has been made in resolving the standoff since Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw flew to Baghdad last weekend and insisted that Iraqis agree on a new leadership quickly.
U.S. officials believe a broad-based government of Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds offers the only hope for reversing Iraq's slide into anarchy. Without such a government, the Americans cannot begin withdrawing their troops.
Talks on a new unity government stalled after Sunni Arab and Kurdish officials said they would not accept al-Jaafari, who won the nomination of the dominant Shiite bloc in balloting among Shiite lawmakers in February.
Al-Jaafari told The Guardian newspaper that he was rejecting calls to give up the nomination of his Shiite bloc "to protect democracy in Iraq."
"There is a decision that was reached by a democratic mechanism and I stand with it," he said. "We have to respect our Iraqi people."
Al-Jaafari added that the Iraqi people "will react if they see the rules of democracy being disobeyed. Everyone should stick to democratic mechanisms no matter whether they disagree with the person."
The rally for al-Jaafari in the Shiite holy city of Karbala drew more than 1,000 supporters who decried "U.S. interference" in Iraqi politics.
During an interview Tuesday with the British Broadcasting Corp., Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi said he met with al-Jaafari the day before and urged him to give up the nomination to break the logjam. But Abdul-Mahdi said al-Jaafari refused, insisting he wanted to take his case to parliament, which must approve the new prime minister and his Cabinet by a majority vote.
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd and an al-Jaafari opponent, referred to the parliamentary option in an interview published Wednesday by the Saudi daily Al Madina.
"Consultations are taking place quickly," Talabani said. "We hope they will not take much longer than this, and if the (Shiites) stick by their stand on nominating Ibrahim al-Jaafari, then we will resort to parliament."
However, it was unclear how parliament could legally resolve the standoff. The constitution states that the president must nominate the candidate of the largest bloc — the Shiites. The prime minister-designate then presents his Cabinet to parliament for approval by a majority of all 275 members.
Under the constitution, however, parliament must first elect a new president and two vice presidents by a two-thirds vote. With Talabani's term also ending, it is unclear whether he would have the authority to appoint a prime minister, and the Shiites could block his re-election.
Because of those legal uncertainties, several Shiite officials said they were reluctant to take the issue to parliament. One described the current standoff as a crisis and said "nobody sees a way out." They all spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.