Iraqi PM rejects calls to step aside

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari is refusing to abandon his bid for a second term, resisting US and British pressure to step aside to break the deadlock over a new government, the embattled leader told a British newspaper in an interview published Wednesday. Al-Jaafari told The Guardian newspaper that he was rejecting calls to give up the nomination of his Shiite bloc "to protect democracy in Iraq." Al-Jaafari's comments were his first public response to pressure that escalated after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw flew to Baghdad on Sunday to demand the Iraqis speed up talks on a new government. Sunni and Kurdish politicians, whom the Shiites need as coalition partners, have called for al-Jaafari's replacement, arguing that his government failed to restore order and prevent an escalation in tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in recent weeks that threatens civil war.