Atul Aneja

Leading Shia alliance for fresh talks over Premier

DUBAI: The tussle over the formation of a national unity government in Iraq has entered its next round with the leading Shia alliance deciding to hold fresh talks over the appointment of its Prime Ministerial candidate. The United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) a combine of seven Shia groups, which has won maximum seats in the parliamentary elections, had chosen Ibrahim Jaafari for the post of Prime Minister in February.

But on Thursday, Mr. Jaafari said the UIA should meet afresh to confirm his appointment, which the rival Sunni and Shia groups have opposed.

The meeting is slated for Saturday.

A UIA official, Jawad Al-Maliki, quoted Mr. Jaafari as saying, "You have chosen me and I return back this choice to you to decide what you see appropriate".

"You'll find me totally prepared to accept your decision for the sake of the unity of the Alliance."

Mr. Maliki clarified that Mr. Jaafari was not stepping down, but was "not sticking to this post."

On Wednesday, Mr. Jaafari had said submitting his resignation was "absolutely not" in his plans.

Faced with the new developments, the Parliament session, which was scheduled for Thursday, has been put off by two days. The UIA leader Abdel Aziz Al-Hakim, who belongs to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), was now expected to play a key role in making the final decision on Mr. Jaafari's candidature.

The United States has been pressing the UIA leadership to end the standoff over Mr. Jaafari's appointment.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has been quoted as saying U.S. President George Bush "doesn't want, doesn't support, doesn't accept" Mr. Jaafari to be the next Prime Minister. Analysts point out that Mr. Jaafari has been opposed because of his past linkages with Iran, where he spent several years in exile and for his "socialist tendencies."

The logjam over the formation of a new government comes in the wake of difficulties in starting the proposed direct negotiations between Iran and the United States on Iraq.