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Shiites may seek cleric's advice

Robert H. Reid, Associated Press

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April 7, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's embattled prime minister vowed Thursday to pursue his bid for a second term despite pressure to step down, signaling no early end to the standoff blocking a crucial national unity government.

Shiite politicians suggested they may turn to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the sole figure with the authority to make a decision that risks shattering Shiite unity.

The Shiite bloc controls 130 of the 275 Parliament seats, enough for first crack at the prime minister's job but not enough to govern without Sunni and Kurdish partners. But the Sunnis and Kurds demand that Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari be replaced, blaming him for the sharp rise in sectarian tensions.
Shiite officials fear a showdown over al-Jaafari could tear apart the Shiite alliance and risk a violent reaction from radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who runs the feared Mahdi Army militia and is a key supporter of the prime minister's.

To break the deadlock, Sunni and Kurdish politicians suggested Parliament convene Wednesday to decide al-Jaafari's fate. But Shiite officials decided Thursday to delay the session until all Iraqi parties agree on nominees for other posts, Shiite politician Khalid al-Attiyah said.
Al-Attiyah said al-Jaafari's supporters within the alliance want to ask the advice of al-Sistani, which would give Shiite politicians political cover and could avoid a showdown with al-Sadr.

It is uncertain, however, whether al-Sistani wants to become involved in an internal Shiite political struggle.

Al-Sistani's aides have said the Iranian-born cleric has become frustrated with the performance of Shiite religious parties, which dominate the outgoing government, and with the rising tensions between Shiites and Sunnis.
But the weakness of Iraqi political institutions, which were revived only after the 2003 collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, has prompted al-Sistani to take stands on political issues.

Turning to al-Sistani, however, would be a tacit acknowledgment by Shiite political leaders that they lack the stature and the political legitimacy to make difficult and potentially divisive decisions.


:: Article nr. 22335 sent on 07-apr-2006 10:52 ECT

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