Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Wrong Man in Iraq

Editorial
The New York Times
February 14, 2006

In selecting Ibrahim al-Jaafari as its nominee for a second prime ministerial term, the dominant Shiite bloc has betrayed the hopes of all those who have wanted Iraq's first constitutionally elected government to make a fresh start at reunifying the country, rebuilding the economy and putting an end to the beating, torture and murder of civilians by Shiite militia members in and out of the official security forces.

Mr. Jaafari has been a spectacular failure on all these fronts over the past 10 months. He is unlikely to do a better job if he gets the job a second time, particularly since he owes his selection to a political deal with the followers of Moktada al-Sadr, a man whose own armed gang, the Mahdi Army, is very much part of the problem.

The Mahdi Army controls the Shiite slums of Baghdad and, with allies, controls the slums of Basra as well, imposing fundamentalist Islamic mores, Taliban style, on those deemed insufficiently devout.

The support of the Sadr bloc was crucial to Mr. Jaafari's one-vote victory over a more promising opponent. Mr. Sadr's spokesman has already made it clear that the price for those votes will be support for Mr. Sadr's political program, which includes solidarity with the anti-American governments of Iran and Syria and has inspired Mahdi Army attacks on American and British troops.

Mr. Jaafari's nomination by the Shiite bloc is not quite tantamount to his election by the new Parliament. By itself, the bloc controls only 130 of Parliament's 275 seats, while a two-thirds majority is required to approve the new prime minister and the cabinet.

That gives important leverage to the Kurds, with just over 50 seats, and to various Sunni Arabs and independents. Ideally, these groups will use their leverage to ease out Mr. Jaafari. The very least they should do is to counteract Mr. Sadr's destructive and growing influence.

Sixty-four votes, half of them loyal to Mr. Sadr, won Mr. Jaafari this nomination. That is less than one-quarter of the new Parliament. Democracy does not require confirming him as prime minister.

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