BAGHDAD, Iraq – An Iraqi vice president called Tuesday for the embattled Shiite prime minister to step aside so a new government can be formed, becoming the most senior Shiite official publicly to endorse demands for a leadership change to halt the slide toward civil war.
Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi told the British Broadcasting Corp. that he met with Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari on Monday and urged him to give up the nomination for a second term because he had lost the confidence of the Sunnis and Kurds.
But Abdul-Mahdi said al-Jaafari refused, insisting he wanted to take his case to parliament, which must approve the new prime minister and his Cabinet by a majority vote.
Asked whether al-Jaafari should withdraw his nomination, Abdul-Mahdi said, “Yes, after such a time of naming him, not getting approval from others now in UIA (the dominant Shiite political bloc), there is some rejection, so I think he should step aside.”
Abdul-Mahdi lost the prime minister nomination to al-Jaafari in February by a single vote at a caucus of the Shiite bloc, which won the most seats in parliamentary elections in December. Al-Jaafari squeaked through largely because he had the support of the powerful anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Abdul-Mahdi’s comment followed the visit of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who warned the Iraqis that their key allies were losing patience with the political stalemate.
U.S. officials have been urging the Iraqis to form a new national unity government of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds as a first step toward restoring public confidence and halting the country’s slide toward anarchy. The talks have stalled over the demands that al-Jaafari be replaced.
President Bush urged the Iraqis on Tuesday to speed up the talks, calling on elected leaders “to stand up and do their job.”