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Iraqi interim PM tells party he'd step down

Parliament session delayed as Shiites mull next move

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Facing mounting pressure to bow out, Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said Thursday that he would step down if members of his Shiite bloc say they want a new candidate.

"The bloc entrusted me with the nomination, and in turn, I turn that trust back to them and give them a chance to review their position and their decision," al-Jaafari said in a televised address Thursday night.

Iraqi lawmakers decided to postpone a parliament session until Saturday, in an effort to resolve the contentious issue of the prime minister's post. (Watch an Iraqi ambassador explain why the process is moving so slowly -- 12:30)

Acting speaker Adnan Pachachi said the delay will help politicians form a national unity government.

"I think we have reached a point where we can hope that a compromise may be achieved," Pachachi said, warning that Iraqis "are becoming rather impatient, and they are losing rapidly the faith in their political class."

Lawmakers are assembling a list of candidates for president, prime minister and parliament speaker. Transitional President Jalal Talabani said an agreement is in the works and "the deal that we have will please everybody."

The country's transitional prime minister, al-Jaafari has been a polarizing figure since the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance nominated him two months ago.

He earned the nomination by one vote, pushed over the top by supporters of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Sunnis, Kurds and secular Arabs have objected to al-Jaafari's nomination, saying he has failed to stabilize the country and has allowed Shiites to infiltrate key ministries.

The objections have essentially blocked the formation of a new government, and the failure to do so has created a political vacuum more than four months after Iraqis elected their parliament.

U.S. and British officials say that vacuum is fueling sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites, which has grown since the bombing in February of Al-Askariya Mosque, a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra.

During the televised address, al-Jaafari said, "I will never accept being a stumbling block or even to give the impression that I am a stumbling block. It is for this reason that I presented the bloc with the chance to review their position."

Al-Jaafari, who has insisted for weeks he wouldn't resign, also wrote a letter to the United Iraqi Alliance, telling it to stand behind him or choose another candidate.

He added in his letter, "No matter what happens, I will never turn my back on the Iraqi people."

Despite the animosity expressed by Kurds and Shiites, al-Jaafari said in his letter that he has had friendly private meetings with some of the same lawmakers denouncing him.

Other developments

  • A U.S. military official said Thursday that terrorist suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and al Qaeda in Iraq remain the coalition's "primary target" and that "he's the threat that we're focused on." Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch made the observation after recent reports that the Jordanian-born militant has been replaced.
  • CNN's Arwa Damon and Auday Sadek contributed to this report.

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