Rice and Cheney push Iraqis to form cabinet
The New York Times | APRIL 26, 2005
By Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Joel Brinkley
Worried about a political deadlock in Iraq and a surge in mayhem from an emboldened insurgency, the Bush administration has pressured Iraqi leaders to end their stalemate over forming a new government.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney have personally exhorted top Kurdish and Shiite politicians to get together.
The effect of the U.S. pressure was unclear. Shiite leaders once again said they were on the verge of announcing their new government, perhaps as soon as Monday. But similar predictions have been proved wrong several times in recent weeks.
The White House pressure, reported Sunday by U.S. officials in Baghdad and Washington, was a significant change in the administration's hands-off approach to Iraqi politics.
The change was disclosed as insurgents unleashed a new and devastating technique, with twin double bombings at a police academy in Tikrit and an ice cream parlor in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad that killed 21 and wounded scores more.
In each attack, a second bomb detonated within minutes of the first, killing and wounding policemen and bystanders who had rushed to care for victims of the initial blasts.
The explosions hit two of the favored targets of Sunni Arab insurgents: police recruits and Shiites. The recruits' training is critical to improving security in Iraq and providing the United States an exit strategy.
The Shiites make up a majority in Iraq, but nearly three months after national elections they have yet to form a new government - a failure that U.S. officials fear is giving strength and confidence to the insurgents.
Washington's approach to the political negotiations had stressed that the Iraqis needed to form their own government without interference.
But American and Iraqi officials have increasingly blamed the delay for a rise in violence in recent weeks that has killed hundreds of Iraqis and threatens to destroy what remains of the political and security momentum that followed the successful Jan. 30 elections.
Rice on Friday telephoned Iraq's new president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, to urge him to complete the government "as soon as they could" and "to get a status of where things were," a senior State Department official in Washington said Sunday. The official stressed that Rice had not told Talabani how to form a government, just that the process needed to be concluded.
Also, Adil Abdul Mahdi, a leading Shiite politician selected as one of the new Iraqi vice presidents, met with Rice and Cheney at the White House, where he was also told that the White House wants to see a government formed right away, the official said.
Rice told both Talabani and Mahdi that more than enough time had passed and that a government needed to be formed now, the official said. "We know it is not an easy things to do, and this is the first time for them."
But the Shiites added a new twist Sunday, declaring they would no longer hold out for a deal with Ayad Allawi, the outgoing interim prime minister. Allawi, a secular Shiite who is not liked by the main Shiite political alliance, had demanded several key posts for his party, including either defense or interior minister, oil or finance minister, and deputy prime minister.
In an interview Sunday, Ali al-Adeeb, a Shiite member of the National Assembly and a leader in Dawa, the party of the newly appointed Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said: "Allawi is out of the cabinet. We don't need any delay because of this issue."
Many Shiites believe Allawi is too sympathetic to Sunnis; many Kurdish officials fear Jaafari is too Islamist.
The Shiite alliance controls a narrow majority of the 275 seats in the National Assembly, while the Kurds have 75 seats and Allawi's party 40 seats.
On top of the squabble between the Shiites and Allawi, some Kurdish and other political leaders have been trying to slow the political process in an effort to force Jaafari out of his new post.
Under the interim constitution, the prime minister will relinquish the post if he fails to form a new government within 30 days of his appointment. That clock runs out on May 7.
Richard A. Oppel reported from Baghdad, Iraq, for this article and Joel Brinkley from Washington. Abdul Razzaq al-Saeidy contributed reporting from Baghdad.