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Can Shiite Jaafari unify the new Iraq?

Ibrahim al-Jaafari was selected Sunday by the Shiite bloc to remain PM.

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After weeks of dispute within the bloc of Shiite Islamist politicians over who would lead Iraq's next government, Sunday they decided that Ibrahim al-Jaafari should keep his job as the country's prime minister.

Mr. Jaafari won the Shiite nomination by a one-vote margin over current Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, virtually cementing his position in the powerful role for the next four years.

Mr. Jaafari's nomination won't be official until a new government is formed, something that looks like it is to be weeks away, at least.

While the selection of Jaafari by the most powerful bloc in the new parliament is an important step in forming that government, his appointment could prove to be a significant stumbling block in negotiations between Shiites, Kurds, and Sunni Arabs.

Leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the Shiite bloc that won 47 percent of the seats in Iraq's Dec. 15 election, have repeatedly promised to form a middle-of-the-road government designed to cool Iraq's sectarian and ethnic tensions.

And Jaafari pledged Sunday to work with all Iraqi groups to form a government that will serve "the great interests of Iraq."

"This process will start to employ all the energies to build Iraq, to move ahead on the security situation, on services, on the economic situation and reconstruction, on political performance internally and externally," he said at a press conference Sunday.

But during his year in power, Jaafari, leader of the Dawa (or Islamic Call) party, has become one of the country's most polarizing and divisive politicians.

Analysts say Jaafari's nomination makes it much less likely that a "national unity" government - something touted by US officials here as a solution to the country's insurgency - will be formed.


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