U.S. Pressuring Ibrahim al-Jaafari to Step Aside?

Edward Wong reports that a Shiite politician, Redha Jowad Taki, claims that the Bush Administration is putting pressure on Iraq’s interim prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to refrain from joining the permanent government.

The ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the head of the main Shiite political bloc at a meeting last Saturday to pass a “personal message from President Bush” on to the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who the Shiites insist should stay in his post for four more years, said Redha Jowad Taki, a Shiite politician and member of Parliament who was at the meeting. Ambassador Khalilzad said that President Bush “doesn’t want, doesn’t support, doesn’t accept” Mr. Jaafari to be the next prime minister, according to Mr. Taki, a senior aide to Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Shiite bloc. It was the first “clear and direct message” from the Americans on the issue of the candidate for prime minister, Mr. Taki said. An American Embassy spokeswoman confirmed that Mr. Khalilzad and Mr. Hakim had met, but declined to comment directly on what they had spoken about.

The Americans have harshly criticized the Jaafari government in recent months for supporting Shiite militias that have been fomenting sectarian violence and pushing Iraq closer to full-scale civil war. Ambassador Khalilzad has sharpened his attacks in the last week, saying the militias are now killing more people than the Sunni-led insurgency. There is growing concern among American officials that Mr. Jaafari is incapable of reining in the private armies, especially since Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American cleric who leads the most volatile of the militias, is Mr. Jaafari’s strongest backer.

Haider al-Ubady, a spokesman for Mr. Jaafari, said the prime minister had heard of the ambassador’s verbal message through officials in his party, and accused the Americans of trying to subvert Iraqi sovereignty and weaken the Shiite ranks. “How can they do this?” Mr. Ubady said. “An ambassador telling a sovereign country what to do is unacceptable.” “The perception is very strong among certain Shia parties that the U.S., led by Khalilzad, is trying to unseat Jaafari,” he added.

The administration is issuing non-denial denials.

The American Embassy spokeswoman, Elizabeth Colton, confirmed that the ambassador did see Mr. Hakim on Saturday. The two meet regularly to discuss Iraq’s political situation. “The decisions about the choice of the prime minister are entirely up to the Iraqis,” Ms. Colton said. “This will be an Iraqi decision.” President Bush, in general comments about Iraq, said at the White House that he was pleased the Iraqis were “continuing to discuss who will fill the key slots in the government.”

This is a messy situation, to be sure. On the one hand, such interference goes against the very idea of “democracy” that we are supposed to be fighting for. On the other hand, installation of an inept government unable to meet basic security needs is in no one’s interest.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.