The Shia choice for prime minister has been rejected by Kurds and Sunnis for failing to halt the bloodshed which casts grave doubt on a national unity government that people had hoped could quickly defuse conflict between Iraq’s ethnic groups. If a government cannot be formed it makes the December election less meaningful, and might even make another election necessary.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari has been blamed for failing to provide the leadership necessary to bring the past week’s mayhem under control. His competence after nearly a year as Prime Minister had already been widely questioned, and he has been accused of permitting Shia death squads to operate within uniformed security forces.
PM Jaafari is the Shia choice to continue to lead the Cabinet for the next four years. But they have not been able to get enough support. A new government has still not been formed more than two months after the highly praised general elections in December.
This new political crisis comes after a bloody week of sectarian slaughter in which hundreds maybe even thousands have been murdered on the streets since the bombing of the Shia shrine in the city of Samarra. Those confirmed killed include 45 Sunni preachers and mosque employees, according to figures released yesterday by an Iraqi government body.
PM Jaafari responded to the calls for him to go by cancelling a meeting that had been arranged to revive stalled talks to form the new government.
PM Jaafari may be falling victim to a power struggle between the strong Kurdish group and the Shia parties who won the most seats in the election in December. Although the Shia parties hold the biggest share of the 275 seats in the National Assembly and are thus entitled to put forward a candidate as prime minister, they still need Kurdish support to govern.
If the process of government formation collapses over the issue of Mr Jaafari, American hopes of stabilising Iraq and reducing troop numbers will recede further after they were called into question by the turmoil of the past week.
In another alarming move, the powerful al-Mahdi Army militia loyal to the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said that it would defend Sadr City in Baghdad, a huge Shia slum, after a bomb attack on a bus there killed five people. Al-Mahdi leaders said that they would co-ordinate with Iraqi army units, but the move indicated that militias may be starting to take increasing control on the ground.
Good thing Bush doesn't buy the premise that Iraq is teetering on the edge of a civil war.