- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

BAGHDAD — Shi’ite lawmakers chose Ibrahim al-Jaafari to remain as prime minister in a new government yesterday, troubling critics who say his current administration has failed to deal effectively with the Sunni-led insurgency or rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Kurdish leaders were particularly critical of the choice, which removes a major obstacle to forming a government nearly two months after national elections.

Mr. al-Jaafari is assured of the post as head of a Shi’ite coalition that won the most parliament seats in the Dec. 15 national elections. He won 64 votes during yesterday’s caucus of Shi’ite legislators, one more than Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, officials said. There were two abstentions.

When the parliament convenes within two weeks, members must next fill the largely ceremonial position of president. The president then will designate Mr. al-Jaafari as the new prime minister.

Mr. al-Jaafari’s designation paves the way for the Shi’ite alliance to begin talks in earnest with parties representing Sunni Arabs, Kurds, secularists and others to try to form a broad-based government, which the United States hopes can calm the insurgency.

“Today’s victory is not that this one won or that one won; it’s the victory of the alliance with its unity and cool head,” Mr. al-Jaafari said after the vote.

Attacks continued yesterday, with at least six persons killed and 20 wounded in a spate of blasts and shootings in Baghdad and to the north. Insurgents also fired a mortar into the heavily guarded Green Zone in central Baghdad, but there were no casualties.

President Jalal Talabani, the head of the influential Kurdish coalition, took little time in making demands about the makeup of the next government.

Mr. Talabani told reporters that the Kurds would not support Mr. al-Jaafari and his Shi’ite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, if former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s secularist Iraqi National List was not included in the Cabinet.

“I stressed to the American ambassador the necessity of forming a national unity government in which no one will be excluded, especially [Mr. Allawi’s] Iraqi List,” Mr. Talabani said after meeting U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. “The Kurdish Coalition will not take part in the coming government unless the Iraqi List takes part in it.”

Several senior Shi’ite politicians have said they opposed the idea of Mr. Allawi — a secularist who has good relations with the U.S. government — taking a prominent role in the next government.

Mr. Allawi has been touted as a possible replacement for Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, a Shi’ite bloc member accused by Sunni Arabs of directing Shi’ite-led security forces to kill and kidnap Sunni Arabs.

Mr. Jabr denies the claims. Shi’ite leaders, long suppressed by dictator Saddam Hussein’s security forces, have vowed to take control of the interior and defense ministries, which run the police and military, respectively.

Mr. al-Jaafari, a physician and member of the Islamic Dawa Party, spent years in exile in Iran and Britain before returning to his homeland after the U.S.-led coalition ousted Saddam in 2003.

After winning the vote yesterday, Mr. al-Jaafari said the Shi’ite coalition will hold talks with others “based on the grand interests of Iraq” and the new constitution — which many Sunni Arabs opposed.

“The main basis for dialogue will primarily be the constitution, respect for the constitution and its contents after the people ratified and adopted it,” he said.

Shi’ites, like Kurds, want to maintain provisions in the constitution that support federalism. But Sunni Arabs oppose the idea and want such laws amended, fearing that federalism will see Kurds and Shi’ites prosper from control of northern and southern oil-rich regions of Iraq, leaving Sunnis with the less valuable central region.

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