Al-Jaafari Impasse Stumps Shiites; Blast Kills Three GIs

Shiite politicians failed Tuesday to resolve the deadlock over their candidate for prime minister, which is blocking formation of a new government. A bomb exploded on a minibus in a Shiite area, killing three people and three U.S. soldiers died in a seperate roadside bomb.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's own Dawa party and his key backer, radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, continued to stand behind him, despite opposition to his nomination by Sunni and Kurdish parties, said Bassem Sharif, who attended a meeting Tuesday of the seven Shiite factions.

The Shiite politicians were to meet again Wednesday, Sharif said.

U.S. military officials announced Tuesday that three American soldiers were killed Tuesday by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad, while two more died in a separate attacks days earlier

The three who died Tuesday were assigned to Multinational Division Baghdad, but the precise location of the attack was not reported in the statement. Another soldier assigned to the 2/28th Brigade Combat Team died Monday of wounds suffered the day before in fighting in Anbar province west of the capital, the military said.

Another soldier assigned to the 130th Engineer Brigade was killed Sunday when his vehicle was hit by a blast near Balad, the U.S. reported. Another soldier was wounded.

Al-Jaafari, who won the nomination for another term during a vote February among Shiite lawmakers, has refused to step aside on several occasions. Shiite leaders fear that forcing him out will fragment their alliance.

"I respect opposing points of view, but they should remember the people who have elected them, and made them the major parliament bloc," al-Jaafari said. "I hope the alliance remains faithful to the Iraqi people and their votes."

Some Shiite officials suggested that the alliance block Sunni and Kurdish candidates for key posts if they do not accept al-Jaafari. Mahmoud Othman, an elder Kurdish statesman, said these were "unjustifiable threats."

Sunni and Kurdish politicians said divisions within the Shiite alliance were making it difficult for the bloc to resolve the issue of al-Jaafari. These include the bitter rivalry between al-Sadr's group and the biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI.

Al-Sadr and others in the alliance prefer to stick by al-Jaafari than risk having a candidate from SCIRI emerge.

"They are divided, and that is the reason why they are not able to reach a quick decision on the candidate," Othman said.

He said delays were "having a negative impact on the Iraqi people and ... badly affecting the credibility of politicians in front of the masses."

Al-Jaafari won the nomination of the Shiite alliance in February balloting. But Sunni and Kurdish parties, whom the Shiites need as partners in a national unity government, have refused to accept al-Jaafari.

That has alarmed the United States and Britain, which are pushing hard for a new government following the Dec. 15 elections as the best way to halt Iraq's slide toward chaos.

"Forming a unity government is critical to defeating the terrorists and securing the peace," President Bush said Monday. "The terrorists and insurgents thrive in a political vacuum. And the delay in forming a government is creating a vacuum that the terrorists and insurgents are working to exploit."

Sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims has threatened to push the country into all-out civil war.

In the Shiite district of Sadr City, a bomb exploded on a minibus, killing three people and wounding four, police said. In the mostly Shiite southern city of Basra, gunmen killed a Sunni professor as he was leaving his house in the morning.

In the capital, a mortar round hit a home in northern Baghdad, killing a man and wounding four members of his family, and two civilians were gunned down as they walked in Azamiyah, police said. Gunmen killed a metal worker in the southwest Shurta neighborhood.

Also in Azamiyah, assailants opened fire on a joint U.S.-Iraqi police patrol near a mosque, with at least one civilian killed in the crossfire before the gunmen fled, police said.

A roadside bomb 20 miles south of Baghdad killed two civilian bystanders and wounded three, police said. In the outskirts of Karbala, a Shiite shrine city 50 miles south of Baghdad, gunmen killed a policeman going to work.

In the northern city of Mosul, gunmen walked up to a group of Iraqi soldiers and killed three, police said.

Police discovered five corpses dumped in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of Baghdad, and the body of a woman with an Iranian passport was found in a gutter in the city of Baqouba, with bruises to her head, police said. Five bodies, most of them shot in the head, were also found in western Baghdad, police said.

The headless body of a policeman was found on a river shore in Kut, about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, a morgue official said.

At least three roadside bombs in Baghdad targeted police and military patrols, wounding several policemen and civilians.

A Sunni politician, Saleh al-Mutlaq, warned that Iraq would "drown in a river of blood" if a new government is not formed soon. He chastised "the politicians who are seeking posts while people are slaughtered in the streets" in comments to the London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.

Cracks in support for al-Jaafari have appeared within the Shiite alliance, though his hardcore allies — including al-Sadr — have stood behind him.

The small Fadhila party, which is part of the alliance, said it is ready to present a candidate of its own for prime minister.

The nominee's name was not released, on instruction by the party's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Sheik Mohammed al-Yacoubi, said Sabah al-Saedi, the party's spokesman.

Names from the alliance's more powerful parties have been mentioned, but none was believed to have broad enough support among enough alliance factions to be guaranteed quick approval.

Some of the possible alternatives include Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who lost the nomination to al-Jaafari by a single vote; deputy parliament speaker Hussain al-Shahristani, an independent; and Ali al-Adeeb and Jawad al-Maliki, members of the prime minister's Dawa party.

Sunnis and Kurds blame al-Jaafari for the rise in sectarian tensions and for a high-handed leadership style since he assumed office last year.