Point-Counterpoint: al’Jaafari’s new government

Ben Pauli

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British foreign minister Jack Straw made a surprise visit to Baghdad Sunday to meet with Iraqi government officials to discuss what they feel is Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s inability to form an Iraqi government. The visit followed reports that President Bush had a personal message delivered to al-Jaafari asking that he resign his post and bow out of the race for prime minister.
Such pressure from the U.S. sets up an interesting but possibly volatile situation for Iraqi politics. Al-Jaafari is seeking to retain his position – after his nomination Feb. 11 – for another four years, and won the nomination of the United Iraqi Alliance, a heavily Shiite coalition that controls nearly half of the Iraqi parliament – by just one vote.
Al-Jaafari has been unable to cooperate with the Kurdish and Sunni factions, however, and the Iraqi parliament has, therefore, been unable to decide on a prime minister. In a country already wrought with divisions, the removal of al-Jaafari has the possibility of causing yet another political fissure with the potential for violence. If the prime minister position were open, the large Shiite faction would most likely split in two, with both groups vying for the position. Both Shiite factions, however, control militiae and could use violent tactics in order to apply political pressure.
Muqtada al-Sadr, for example, is an Iraqi cleric who is a main suppporter of the United Iraqi Alliance. Al-Sadr is also the leader of the Mahdi Army – thought to number in the thousands – who have battled with occupying forces on a number of occasions. Therefore, in an effort to restore political order to Iraq, it is quite possible that the Bush administration’s pressure to oust al-Jaafari will lead to greater disorder, political turmoil, and violence.
If the Bush administration truly believes what it espouses about Iraqi sovereignty, it should stop applying political pressure in order to create the Iraq that the U.S. government wants, and should allow the Iraqi people to create the Iraq that they want.

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