| A soldier of the New Iraqi Army shows a picture of Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani near Falluja. (Reuters)
Washington, Nov. 6: In the jockeying for power in the second administration of President George W. Bush, his former ambassador to India, Robert D. Blackwill, has lost out and is quitting the government.
Blackwill yesterday shook up a somnolent foreign policy establishment here, recuperating after the excitement of the presidential election, with an unexpected e-mail to his White House colleagues that he would go on an extended vacation as early as next week and would not return to the government.
Blackwill's designation in the National Security Council was 'coordinator for strategic planning', but it understated his role in the White House.
In October last year, a few months after Blackwill left New Delhi to join the White House, Bush named him to the Iraq Stabilisation Group within the National Security Council, which was created to increase the White House's role in coordinating Iraq policy as signs emerged that things were seriously going wrong.
In April this year, Bush made Blackwill the presidential envoy to Iraq. He was also given the task of working with the UN, concentrating on 'issues related to Iraq's governance'.
His departure from this crucial job raises questions about the chances of holding Iraqi elections in January.
UN secretary general Kofi Annan has already said the imminent US assault on Falluja would make it difficult for the UN to get involved in the planned elections.
Although Blackwill is credited with having brought some semblance of order to America's Iraq policy, caught up in intra-agency disagreements between the state department and the Pentagon, his notorious functional style did not win him new friends here.
But he had hoped to be national security adviser in the second Bush team, according to sources in the administration, a job that requires extreme tact and a personable style, especially while dealing with competing pressures on the President.
There are indications that Condoleezza Rice is leaving her job as national security adviser, but the President is said to have shortlisted Steve Hadley, Rice's deputy, and Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defence secretary, for the job.
The President's choice of Hadley or Wolfowitz over Blackwill may also be linked to the likelihood that secretary of state Colin Powell ' with whom Blackwill had a difficult relationship ' may stay on at his post for some more time.
Powell is hugely popular among the state department's career diplomats, for many of whom, Blackwill is a bete noire.
Having Blackwill as national security adviser would have been a recipe for disaster under those circumstances.
Blackwill, however, said in his e-mail yesterday that he had told Rice several weeks ago that he would quit the administration soon after the presidential election.
He joined Bush in 1998 to work on his first presidential campaign, became ambassador to India and later joined the White House.