BAGHDAD, Iraq ¡ª The American ambassador has told Shiite officials that
President Bush does not want the Iraqi prime minister to remain the country's
leader in the next government, senior Shiite politicians said Tuesday.
It is the first time the Americans have directly expressed a preference in
the furious debate over the country's top job, the politicians said, and it is
inflaming tensions between the Americans and some Shiite leaders.
The ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the head of the main Shiite political
bloc at a meeting on Saturday to pass on a "personal message from President
Bush" to the interim prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said Redha Jowad Taki,
a Shiite member of Parliament who was at the meeting.
Mr. Khalilzad said Mr. Bush "doesn't want, doesn't support, doesn't accept"
Mr. Jaafari as 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 a specific candidate for prime minister,
Mr. Taki said.
The Shiite bloc, which won a plurality in the parliamentary election in
December, nominated Mr. Jaafari last month to retain his post for four more
American officials in Baghdad did not dispute the Shiite politicians' account
of the conversation, though they would not discuss the details of the meeting.
A spokeswoman for the American Embassy confirmed that Mr. Khalilzad met with
Mr. Hakim on Saturday. But she declined to comment on what was said.
"The decisions about the choice of the prime minister are entirely up to the
Iraqis," said the spokeswoman, Elizabeth Colton. "This will be an Iraqi
In Washington, the State Department said it would not comment on diplomatic
conversations, but Adam Ereli, the deputy spokesman, reiterated American support
for "a government of national unity with strong leadership that can unify all
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.
Mr. Khalilzad has sharpened his criticism in the last week, saying the
militias are now killing more people than the Sunni Arab-led insurgency.
American officials have expressed growing concern 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 militia, is Mr. Jaafari's most
Haider al-Ubady, a spokesman for Mr. Jaafari, said the prime minister had
received the ambassador's message and accused the Americans of trying to subvert
"How can they do this?" Mr. Ubady said. "An ambassador telling a sovereign
country what to do is unacceptable."
Tensions between Shiite leaders and the American government, which had been
rising for months, boiled over after an assault on Sunday night by American and
Iraqi forces on a Shiite mosque compound in northern Baghdad.
Shiite leaders say at least 17 civilians were killed in the battle, most of
them members of a Shiite political party. American commanders say the soldiers
The reported American pressure over Mr. Jaafari's nomination is another sign
of White House impatience over the deadlocked talks to form a new government.
American officials say the impasse has created a power vacuum that has
encouraged lawlessness and civil conflict.
The nomination has become one of the most contentious issues in those talks,
with the main Kurdish, Sunni Arab and secular blocs calling for the Shiites to
replace Mr. Jaafari. On Monday, Shiite leaders suspended their participation in
the negotiations, saying they were enraged by the assault on the mosque complex.
In Baghdad on Tuesday, at least 21 people were abducted in four separate
incidents in the biggest wave of kidnappings in a month, an Interior Ministry
official said. In one incident, 15 men in Iraqi Army uniforms dragged at least
six people from a money exchange shop and stole nearly $60,000. In two other
cases, people wearing Interior Ministry commando uniforms snatched victims from
two electronics shops.
The police in western Baghdad discovered 14 bodies on Tuesday, all killed
execution-style with gunshots to the head, apparently the latest victims of
sectarian bloodletting. On Monday, Iraqi forces found 18 bodies near Baquba with
similar wounds. Earlier reports of 30 beheaded bodies found in that area were
wrong, the Interior Ministry official said.
An American soldier was killed Tuesday by small-arms fire in Baghdad, and
another was killed and three were wounded by a roadside bomb outside Habbaniya,
the American military said.
The Iraqi security minister, Abdul Karim al-Enizi, said on the state-run
Iraqiya network on Tuesday night that the Iraqi forces who had raided the mosque
compound in Baghdad were not part of the Interior or Defense Ministry. A
survivor said the soldiers did not speak Arabic well, implying they may have
been Kurdish militiamen working with Americans, Mr. Enizi said.
At the Pentagon, senior officials defended the raid, releasing photographs
they said proved that weapons and bomb-making materials had been seized inside
the compound, which they described as a school complex that had been turned into
a base for a "hostage ring."
When the soldiers entered the compound, "they found that there was a building
there that had a small minaret and a prayer room inside it," said Gen. Peter
Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Some people are calling that a
The surge in violence has shaken confidence in Mr. Jaafari, who has been
widely criticized by Iraqis for failing to smash the Sunni-led insurgency,
letting Shiite death squads run rampant and doing little on reconstruction.
Mr. Jaafari won the Shiite bloc's nomination for prime minister by one vote
in a secret ballot of its members of Parliament, beating out the deputy of Mr.
Hakim, the bloc's leader. As the largest bloc, with 130 of the 275 seats, the
Shiites have the right to nominate the prime minister.
But a two-thirds vote of Parliament is required for approval of the new
government. As long as the other major blocs oppose Mr. Jaafari, the process is
at a standstill.