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April 2, 2006
Lighting A Fire Underneath Them

Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made an unannounced visit to Iraq today in order to send an unusually public message to the political factions that have stalemated the formation of a new government. Both bluntly told the press that they want to press for a unity government now, not two months from now, in order to end the political vacuum that has Iraqis losing patience with their national assembly:

The top U.S. and British diplomats told Iraqi leaders on Sunday they cannot afford to "leave a political vacuum" and must work quickly to form a new unified government.

The surprise visit by Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw highlighted the allies' growing impatience with the Iraqis' failure to set up a governing coalition nearly four months after elections.

Rice told reporters she and Straw conveyed the same message to each of the leaders they saw: that each must do his own job in resolving the political stalemate and do it quickly.

"Whatever role that is, it's time to play it because the Iraqi people are losing patience," Rice said. "What is more, your international allies want to see this get done because you can't continue to leave a political vacuum."

One of those leaders, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, said Rice and Straw made clear "there is a sense of urgency to form this new Iraqi national unity government" and that "there is a sense of impatience back in Washington and London about the delay."

That's about as blunt a message as one will see delivered by Western diplomats, especially in a region with this much volatility. It shows that the Bush and Blair administrations have come to the end of their patience with the eleventh-hour style of negotiations that the Iraqis have used for the past year when consolidating the elections into a functioning executive. The longer it takes to form a government, the more opportunity that fringe groups and radical militias have to cause mischief and mayhem.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to this transition may shortly be removed from the calculations. Prior to Rice and Straw arriving in Baghdad, Reuters reported that Shi'ite support for Ibrahim al-Jafaari had disintegrated, with voices calling for his resignation:

Leaders of Iraq's ruling Shi'ite Alliance bloc called publicly for the first time yesterday for Ibrahim al-Jaafari to step down as prime minister to break weeks of deadlock over a national-unity government.

The move against Mr. al-Jaafari, declared publicly by one leader and echoed, anonymously, by others, came as parties held their latest round of talks on a grand coalition with Kurds and Sunnis.

Kurds and Sunnis remain adamant in their rejection of Mr. al-Jaafari.

The majority Shi'ite coalition could not get the two-thirds necessary to retain Jafaari in the executive post, and his continued insistence on holding onto his office had created all sorts of tensions and obstacles in the latest talks over forming the government. The US officially took no position on Jafaari, but it is clear from the high-stakes visit from both Rice and Straw that the Western coalition wants the talks to move beyond Jafaari. It is no mere academic exercise for the two nations, as the violence threatens our soldiers as well as our resolve to see Iraq through to victory.

The real message that Rice and Straw brought to the Iraqi leadership may not be known in detail for some time. I suspect it was a reminder that the only thing standing between the democrats in Iraq and the Ba'athist remnants and al-Qaeda terrorists is Anglo-American resolve. The leaders of the assembly spend that unwisely on their dithering and their petty rivalries rather than uniting as democrats to face down tyranny and build their nation anew. One hopes that the Sunnis and the Shi'ites in particular have listened well, and that they propose leadership that can unite the factions rather than perpetuating the discord. With Jafaari getting tossed under the bus by his own parties, that appears to finally be under way.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 2, 2006 11:15 AM

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