Anti-American cleric shuns Iraqi PM, throws support to former Shiite premier for top post

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Incumbent Iraqi PM loses key Shiite supporters

BAGHDAD — An influential hard-line Shiite movement on Wednesday wants its leader to back neither frontrunner in Iraq’s close election, further muddying the political situation following the inconclusive vote.

In a survey, supporters of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr voted 24 percent for him to support Shiite politician Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who was interim prime minister from 2005 to 2006, the movement’s spokesman Salah al-Obeidi announced.

Iraq’s incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his chief rival Ayad Allawi, received only 10 percent and 9 percent of votes respectively.

Al-Obeidi left open whether al-Sadr would follow the guidance of his supporters in the course of future negotiations, saying that “each event has its own way,” but the results seemed certain to at least add further complications to the already long drawn-out negotiating period that has followed the March 7 election.

Allawi’s bloc came out ahead in the vote by two seats over Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s coalition, but both parties are far short of the necessary majority needed to govern alone. The candidates are now scrambling to muster the support needed to form a government.

Renewed sectarian violence has broken out amid the struggle for power — most recently with a series of bombings Tuesday that killed 54 people and injured 187. More than 120 have been killed in a five-day spree of attacks in and around the capital, which Iraqi and U.S. officials have blamed on al-Qaida insurgents seizing on gaping security lapses created by the political deadlock.

Police investigating the Tuesday attacks said in one case, the suspected bomber rented a first-floor apartment in one of the buildings a week ago and likely rigged it with explosives.

Police are working on the theory that the other buildings were attacked the same way, an investigator told the AP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk with the press, suggesting that the bombings were carefully planned an executed.

In reaction, the government said it would bolster enforcement of an Iraqi law that requires local police or other officials to approve any rental contracts before people move into a new home.

The recent violence, which has largely targeted families and homes, has been reminiscent of the sectarian bloodshed that tore Iraq apart from 2005 to 2007 and prompted the United States to send tens of thousands more troops to the front lines.

Hundreds of mourners on Wednesday marched through the streets the predominantly Shiite area of Baghdad that was the focus of the attacks in funeral processions.

In one procession, families and friends of one victim carried his coffin and picture over their heads through the narrow streets, walking to the cadence of a gun being fired into the air in time to a drum.

Nearby, the Iraqi-flag draped coffin of another victim was carried to a car to be taken away for burial, as mourners wailed and fired gunshots into the air.

“The whole district is in mourning because even if you didn’t have a relative killed, it might have been a neighbor or a friend,” said shop-owner Saif Hasan, who blamed the government for not providing better security.

“Instead of improving our area with reconstruction and services, we face bombings and destruction,” the 25-year-old said.

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