Iraqi Leaders Fail to Appoint Prime Minister

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Efforts to form a unity government suffered a new setback Sunday as Iraqi leaders postponed a parliament session after failing to agree on a prime minister and other top posts.

U.S. officials believe the best way to stem the violence is for the Iraqis to establish a unity government of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. Only then can the United States begin withdrawing its 133,000 troops.

But progress has stalled over Sunni and Kurdish opposition to the Shiite choice of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to head the new government. With al-Jaafari refusing to step aside, acting speaker Adnan Pachachi called a parliament session for Monday, hoping the full legislature could agree on a new leadership after party leaders had failed.

On the eve of the session, Pachachi announced a delay of "a few days" to give the religiously and ethnically based parties more time to agree on the new prime minister, president and five other top posts that require parliamentary approval.

Before the announcement, Shiite official Hussain al-Shahristani told Sunni and Kurdish leaders that his bloc, which controls 130 of the 275 parliament seats, would decide what to do about al-Jaafari "within the coming two days," according to Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman.

Shiites have been giving similar assurances for the past two weeks, and it was unclear whether the issue could be settled in the coming days.

The bitter fight over al-Jaafari has heightened friction among the rival parties, raising the specter of deadlock over other top jobs. Some Shiite officials say that if they must change their nominee for prime minister, other parties may not win approval of their first choices for major posts either.

For example, the Shiites rejected the Sunni nominee for parliament speaker, Tariq al-Hashimi. And disputes emerged Sunday over the two deputy speakers and two vice presidents -- jobs expected to go to Sunnis and Kurds.

Several lawmakers said the postponement opened the door to bitter fights over those posts too.

"This delay will affect everything," said Sunni lawmaker Naseer al-Ani. "The Shiites did not tell us the reasons behind rejecting al-Hashimi like we did about al-Jaafari. We're still waiting to hear the reasons."

Pressure has been mounting on the Shiites to replace al-Jaafari, whom critics accuse of failing to curb sectarian tensions that have soared since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, which triggered a wave of reprisal attacks against Sunnis.

Shiite politicians not affiliated with major parties have proposed that al-Jaafari step aside in favor of another candidate from his Dawa party. In return, the biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, would not push Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi for the post.

However, Dawa leaders complained of interference by outsiders and insisted they should decide al-Jaafari's fate, according to several Shiite officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were at a sensitive stage.

Al-Jaafari won the nomination in a vote last February by Shiite lawmakers due to strong support from radical anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The mercurial young cleric, who heads the dreaded Mahdi Army militia, has vowed to stand behind al-Jaafari.

In an interview Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. Samir Sumaidaie said Shiite lawmaker Ali al-Adeeb had emerged as a possible replacement for al-Jaafari.

Al-Adeeb is a member of al-Jaafari's party but spent many years in Iran -- which could cause problems with the Sunnis.With little progress on the political front, Iraq's slide toward chaos continued.

Four Marines -- three from Regimental Combat Team Five and one from the 2/28 Brigade Combat Team -- died Saturday in Anbar province, the U.S. command said Sunday.

n Experts on Monday confirmed the authenticity of Saddam Hussein's signature on documents connected to a crackdown on Shiites in the 1980s.

A report from handwriting experts said a signature on a document approving rewards for intelligence agents involved in the crackdown was Hussein's. Earlier, Hussein had refused to confirm or deny his signature.

Hussein and seven former members of his regime are on trial for the deaths of 148 Shiites and the imprisonment and torture of others during the crackdown launched after a 1982 assassination attempt against the former Iraqi leader in the Shiite town of Dujail. They face possible execution by hanging if convicted.