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 Kurdish VP: Race for Iraq PM Far From Over

 Source : The Southern Illinoisan
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Kurdish VP: Race for Iraq PM Far From Over 23.2.2005


BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq's Kurdish interim vice president on Wednesday said negotiations to pick the country's new prime minister were far from over, as Iraq's new political king-makers sought to secure top jobs, including the largely ceremonial post of president.

Haggling over senior positions in the upcoming government came against the backdrop of more violence. A car bomb killed two people and wounded 14 in the northern city of Mosul, and a U.S. soldier was killed in a separate bomb attack north of Baghdad, officials said.

The dominant Shiite coalition on Tuesday chose Ibrahim al-Jaafari, one of two interim vice presidents and leader of a religious party that fought Saddam Hussein, as its candidate for prime minister _ making him the overwhelming favorite for the post.

But for al-Jaafari to take the premiership he must build a coalition to gain agreement from Kurds and others on the presidency and candidates for Cabinet posts before seeking the support of a majority of the National Assembly elected Jan. 30.

Incumbent premier Ayad Allawi has shown no sign of giving up his own bid for the powerful post.

Al-Jaafari is "a man I can work with, but to discuss who will be the prime minister of Iraq, this still needs more time," Kurdish interim vice president Rowsch Nouri Shaways told reporters. "We aim to get high rank in the government institutions. We aim to get one of the top positions and we aim to participate in the Council of Ministers, suitable with our percentage in the elections."

Kurdish parties, which won 75 seats in the 275-seat national assembly, want Jalal Talabani, a secular Sunni Kurd and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, to be Iraq's next president.

The Shiite Muslim clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance won 140 seats, while Allawi's secular Shiite Iraqi List party won 40 seats. Nine other parties divided the remaining 20 seats.

According to the interim constitution adopted last year under the U.S. occupation, parliament must elect a president and two vice presidents by a two-thirds majority, or 182 seats. The three must then unanimously choose a prime minister subject to assembly approval.

There is no timetable for the assembly to convene, and al-Jaafari and his alliance must agree with other elected parties on who will fill the three posts and the Cabinet. Even then, the prime minister has a month to name his Cabinet before the assembly vote.

Wednesday's car bomb exploded in western Mosul, said Essam Youssef of the city's Jamhouri hospital, where some of the casualties were brought. It was not immediately clear what the target of the bomb was. Witnesses said no U.S. or Iraqi forces in the area where the explosion took place.

In a statement, the U.S. military said two people were killed and 14 wounded in the attack.

Also in Mosul, U.S. soldiers shot dead a civilian in a pickup truck who approached their convoy too closely as he was trying to pass it, policeman Ahmed Rashid said. Weary of car bombs, most U.S. military vehicles carry signs warning drivers to keep away.

Elsewhere, a soldier from the U.S. Task Force Liberty was killed Wednesday when assailants set off the bomb near Tuz, 105 miles north of Baghdad, the military said in a statement.

Al-Jaafari's selection on Tuesday came after former Washington ally Ahmad Chalabi dropped out of the race following three days of round-the-clock bargaining. Al-Jaafari has been seen as having close ties to Iran's ruling clergy, though he denies any links to a government that President Bush has said is part of an "axis of evil."

For al-Jaafari, 58, to succeed, he'll have to meet conflicting demands from Kurds, Sunni Arabs and even Islamic hard-liners within his United Iraqi Alliance

Iraq's secular Kurds and many Sunnis worry that al-Jaafari will try to impose his Dawa Party's brand of conservative Islam on the country, particularly because the assembly will be charged with writing a new constitution.

Al-Jaafari told the AP last week that Islam should be the official religion of Iraq "and one of the main sources for legislation, along with other sources that do not harm Muslim sensibilities."

He skirted his party's official position, which explicitly urges the "Islamization" of Iraqi society and the state, including the implementation of Shariah, or Islamic law.

"Theory is different from practice," al-Jaafari said.


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