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Iraq in desperate need of a leader

By Aneesh Raman
CNN

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Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari is under pressure to step down.

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Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- If ever there was a time Iraq needed leadership it is now. The sectarian violence here continues, and the threat remains that the insurgency is effectively pulling the country apart.

But now there's also a battle brewing in the political arena. All along Iraq's leaders have said the only endgame that can bring about stability is a unity government, one where the Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and secular politicians all have a significant role in how the country is run.

That is now in jeopardy.

The country's opposition blocs -- the Sunni, Kurdish and secular politicians -- have jointly demanded that the country's prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite who was recently renominated to the post by the ruling Shiite alliance, be withdrawn for consideration.

Why? They think he's weak, incapable of bringing about unity let alone necessary measures to secure the streets of Iraq.

But there's another reason. Al-Jaafari was nominated again because of support from Shiite anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Sadr has become a political force in recent months, after largely being a voice of opposition before.

He commands a militia that by some estimates numbers 10,000 and is reportedly behind some of the reprisal attacks against Sunnis in the aftermath of last Wednesday's attack on a sacred Shiite mosque.

In short, the country's political elite are wary of al-Sadr becoming a fellow player.

But this isn't just a crisis for al-Jaafari. It's now a crisis for Iraq. Iraqis elected their first post-Hussein permanent government December 15. It's now March and that government hasn't formed. Before the attack on the Al-Askiriya Mosque last Wednesday, most political observers said a unity government was possible and could form as early as the end of this month. Estimates now suggest a government might not form for months.

This leaves the country, politically at least, in a holding pattern. It means decisions aren't being made, actions aren't being taken. And it also leaves Iraqis wondering who is really running the country.

The al-Sadr effect once again highlights the fact that religion and politics here are one in the same. The political leaders, especially those in the Shiite alliance, answer at times directly to their religious counterparts.

And this crisis highlights how complicated things here are. There are no easy solutions to Iraq's predicament, but some quick decisions need to start happening to keep the situation from growing worse.

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