Shiite politicians suggested a formula Saturday for replacing their nominee for prime minister to break the deadlock over Iraq’s new unity government, officials said. At least 12 Iraqis died in a car bombing near a Baghdad restaurant and other attacks.
Two Shiite officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the sensitivity of the discussions, said the formula called for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to step aside in favor of another candidate from his Dawa party.
In return, the biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, would not push Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi for the post, the officials said.
It was unclear, however, whether al-Jaafari had signed off on the plan, and it appeared there was no agreement even among Dawa on a replacement. Al-Jaafari, who defeated Abdul-Mahdi for the nomination in a vote among Shiite lawmakers in February, and has refused to give up his bid for a second term.
Sunni and Kurdish opposition to al-Jaafari has stalled efforts to form a unity government four months after parliamentary elections. Shiite officials are under intense pressure from the United States, Britain and the Shiite clerical hierarchy to resolve the impasse so a government can take power.
On Friday, representatives of the main political blocs agreed to create a six-member committee to choose names of candidates for the posts of president, vice president and prime minister, said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish elder statesman.
The committee was to meet Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday, before parliament convenes the next day, he said.
“The (committee) members will study and discuss the names, make their choices and then present them to the heads of the blocs either tonight or tomorrow,” Othman said Saturday.
The aim is to have a list of agreed-upon names by the session, he said.
Leading Shiites say they will attend Monday’s session even if no agreement is reached on all the names. But there were indications Saturday that the session could be postponed if the al-Jaafari problem has not been solved.
“If we reach an agreement, then it’s a good step,” said Khalid al-Attiyah, an independent Shiite politician. “If not, we will present a proposal to postpone the parliament session for two or three days.”
Al-Attiyah said that proposal wouldn’t be presented until Sunday.
In an interview Friday with a British television station, al-Jaafari repeated that he would not step down.
“I was the legitimate and democratic choice,” he told Britain’s Channel 4 News. “I wouldn’t have accepted the responsibility if I thought it was against the will of the people. I don’t see how I could repay my people’s faith in me by letting them down.”
The lack of political progress has sharpened sectarian divisions and frustrated Iraqis, especially as continued violence chips away at their patience and threatens to push the country into a large-scale civil war.
Car bomb explodes near restaurant
Meanwhile, a car bomb near a restaurant frequented by police in eastern Baghdad exploded at lunchtime, killing at least five civilians and wounding nearly 25 people, including four policemen, officials said.
The blast also damaged nearby shops and cars in the commercial district, police said.
Iraqi police missing after insurgents ambushed their convoy as they left a U.S. base Thursday evening began to return home to Najaf. By Saturday, about 75 of the 109 men who were attacked had returned, according to Brig. Gen. Abbas Maadal, the Najaf police chief. More than 30 policemen were still unaccounted for.
The large convoy went to the U.S. Taji base north of Baghdad to pick up new vehicles. On their way home, they were ambushed near the base by insurgents who opened fire and triggered a roadside bomb. At least nine police were killed in the attack, according to the U.S. military, which helped provide air and ground support to end the assault.
Elsewhere, a roadside bomb exploded near an Iraqi army patrol in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora, killing three soldiers and wounding three others, the army said.
A gunfight between insurgents and police and soldiers operating a checkpoint in northwest Baghdad’s Shula district killed at least two civilians and wounded four others, police said.
At least one civilian was killed and two others wounded in fierce fighting between insurgents and the army in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, police said. Several cars were set on fire in the clash.
In the southern city of Basra, four gunmen killed the director of traffic police as he was driving to work, police said.
Police discovered a body, shot in the head, floating on a small river in Mahawil about 45 miles south of Baghdad.