Shiites Make No Move To Replace Iraqi P.M.

Shiite politicians met Sunday to discuss the crisis over their nomination of Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari for a new term but made no decision to replace him, officials said.

Instead, they decided to form a three-member committee better ascertain the reasons for Sunni and Kurdish opposition to al-Jaafari, said Shiite official Ridha Jawad Taqi. He said representatives of the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite block, would meet again Monday to review the committee's findings.

Sunnis and Kurds oppose al-Jaafari because they blame his government for failing to stop a rise in sectarian violence. Their reasons are well known, and it appeared the Shiites were playing for time.

Opposition to al-Jaafari has paralyzed efforts to form a national unity government, which the United States sees as essential to stop Iraq's slide to anarchy.

The Shiites met Sunday at the insistence of the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is reportedly concerned that the standoff could threaten Shiite unity.

A Shiite official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said al-Jaafari's supporters from his Dawa party and the movement of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr insisted on standing by his nomination.

Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlaq proposed the new prime minister be chosen by consensus among all parties, a proposal the Shiites are unlikely to accept. The constitution states that the largest bloc in parliament -- the Shiite alliance -- has the right to nominate the prime minister, subject to parliamentary approval.

Al-Mutlaq said the new government should be made up of "independents, nationalists and technocrats from outside the current political parties."

Al-Jaafari has refused to step down. Shiite leaders have been reluctant to force him out while Dawa and al-Sadr's group stand by him, fearing a breakup of the Shiite alliance.