Iraq Parliament Session Cancelled After PM Climbs Down

Iraq leaders take part in a press conference held in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, 20 April 2006 (AFP Photo)

Four months since the December elections Iraqi leaders have failed to agree on the composition of the first permanent post- Saddam Hussein government due to bickering over Jaafari's candidacy and ministerial posts.

The news of the cancellation of Thursday's session came shortly after Jaafari took a step back from his longstanding insistance on leading the next government and staying on as premier.

He indicated through a Shiite parliamentarian that he put his fate in the hands of his dominant Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA).

"I understand the alliance is facing challenges and I feel that my name should not be associated with issues that delay the nation's progress," Jaafari said later in a televised address to the nation.

"I do not want to be a hurdle in the democratic process," he said, without specifying whether he was withdrawing his candidacy as the next premier.

Jaafari has been under growing pressure from within the UIA, as well as from other parliamentary blocs, to withdraw his candidacy in the face of a consistent failure since the elections to agree on a cabinet.

Earlier Thursday Iraqi leaders decided to postpone the parliament session after Shiite leaders said that Jaafari was willing to withdraw his candidacy.

"The leaders decided that the session be postponed until Saturday 3:00 pm (1100 GMT) so we can give more time for consultations and negotiations in order to overcome all the obstacles," acting parliament speaker Adnan Pachachi told reporters.

"I believe if we give ourselves this time, we will be able to succeed in forming a national unity government which people have been waiting for."

The session was cancelled at the request of the UIA, which is now planning to vote on a new candidate for the post of premier before the Saturday session.

"The alliance's political body will decide on a candidate and call for voting on him before Saturday's parliament session," said Hussein al-Shahristani, a UIA lawmaker.

He said the alliance requested the session's cancellation to make time for the finalization of candidates for the key parliamentary posts.

Iraq's various parliamentary blocs are currently debating on candidates for the posts of the three-member presidential council, two deputy premiers, one parliament speaker and his two deputies, apart from the prime minister.

It was not immediately clear if the UIA had decided to drop Jaafari in favor of another candidate.

Shiite MP Jawad al-Maliki earlier in the day indicated that Jaafari might step down. "Jaafari has left the decision about his candidacy with the alliance ... That means he is no longer insisting on the post," he said.

Washington is pushing for the quick formation of a broad coalition, the final phase in Iraq's political transition since the US-led invasion of March 2003, that would pave the way for an eventual withdrawal of its troops.

The inaugural session of parliament was held on March 16 but was swiftly adjourned amid few signs of a deal on the government.

On Thursday, lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said Jalal Talabani was being considered to stay on as president, Mahdi to remain as one vice president, and Sunni Tareq al-Hashemi as the other vice president.

Dulaimi, a Sunni Arab, would be parliament speaker, according to Othman.

The Sunni bloc warned on Thursday that it would take issues into its own hands if the Shiites failed to reach an early conclusion on Jaafari.

"If the Shiite alliance fails to come up with a solution, there would be no choice but for all other parliamentary blocs to join hands and form a government," said Zhafer al-Ani, spokesman of the Sunni-led National Concord Front which has 44 seats in the assembly.

The non-Shiite blocs hold 145 seats in the parliament, more than the number required to form a government. The constitution stipulates that a bloc forming the government needs only a simple majority.

Meanwhile, bloodshed on Thursday left at least 12 people dead in rebel shootings and bombings, while a group of armed men dressed in police uniforms kidnapped six people from two Baghdad bookstores, the interior ministry

Source: AFP

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