IRAQ'S Speaker of Parliament is considering stepping down because of bitter enmity from Kurdish and Shiite political blocs, revealing the first major crack in Iraq's fragile unity Government since it was formed nearly three months ago.
The Speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, is the third-ranking official in Iraq and a conservative Sunni Arab. Shiite and Kurdish legislators have banded together to try to push him out, mainly because he is considered too radical.
Since taking office in late May, Mr Mashhadani has publicly praised the Sunni insurgency, called the Americans "butchers" and denounced the idea of carving up Iraq into autonomous regions, which the Kurds and some Shiites strongly support.
"Maybe now is the best time for me to withdraw," Mr Mashhadani said. "My hand won't be stained as they want it to be stained."
The replacement of Mr Mashhadani would represent the first upheaval in the new Shiite-led Government since it was installed on May 20. In the weeks since, Iraqis have become disillusioned with their leaders as sectarian violence has soared and basic services like electricity and water continue to lag.
The executive offices and the 275-seat Parliament are split mostly among the major Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political blocs.
American military spokesman Major-General William Caldwell said on Monday that some Shiite militias were receiving weapons from individuals or groups in Iran and undergoing training there. It was unclear whether the Iranian Government was directly involved, he said.
"We do know that weapons have been provided and IED technology been made available to these extremist elements," General Caldwell said, using the military's acronym for improvised explosive devices, or homemade bombs.
General Caldwell said 57 Iraqis in southern Baghdad were killed on Sunday in a gas main explosion, not by bombs, mortars or rockets, as Iraqi security officials had reported.
American ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said on Friday that Iran had been encouraging small Shiite militias to attack the American-led forces in retaliation for American backing of Israel's military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Iran, governed by Shiites, supports Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia.
The Iraqi Parliament's bylaws provide that the Speaker can be replaced if an absolute majority of members — 138 — approve of the ouster. The Parliament is in recess for August, but a Kurdish legislator, Mahmoud Othman, said a special session might be called to vote on Mr Mashhadani.
The move to replace Mr Mashhadani could infuriate some Sunni Arabs in the Government. But several legislators said the main Sunni Arab bloc, the Iraqi Consensus Front, would be allowed to retain the Speaker position, provided it found an acceptable replacement.
Mr Mashhadani said he would stay in Parliament even if forced to step down as Speaker.
One member of the bloc, Salim Abdullah, said some Sunni legislators were open to nominating another Speaker. "This is the time when we need someone to be more active and more acceptable to the political blocs," he said.