- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2003

BAGHDAD — After weeks of struggling to choose a leader, Iraq’s U.S.-picked interim government named its first president yesterday — a Shi’ite Muslim from a party banned by Saddam Hussein.

U.S. troops, meanwhile, pressed the hunt for the ousted dictator and officers said it was “just a matter of time” before he is caught. In Saddam’s hometown, Tikrit, the troops continued questioning suspects and poring over documents and photo albums seized in a Tuesday raid, looking for clues to Saddam’s whereabouts.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite Muslim and chief spokesman for the Islamic Dawa Party, which was banned during Saddam’s rule, was picked to be the first of nine men who will serve one-month stints leading postwar Iraq. He will hold the presidency in August.

Selecting a president had been a contentious issue as ethnic and political groups wrestled for a share of power. In the end, the 25-member Governing Council decided to rotate the presidency alphabetically among the nine members chosen Tuesday.

The council will control spending and set in place the mechanism for writing a new constitution. A council source said a Cabinet will be named soon.

Members of the council met with World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who said the institution must first decide what constitutes a legally recognized government before it can lend money to Iraq for reconstruction.

“Clearly a constitution and an elected government would constitute a recognized government, but what do we do in the meantime?” Mr. Wolfensohn said. “It’s a subject that needs interpretation.”

The Governing Council began functioning July 13 and said its first order of business was selecting a president. But it was unable to agree on giving that much power to one member, so it decided Tuesday to share the responsibility among nine.

“The council is made up of different political parties, with different agendas, different ethnic groups. There was no agreement among the members as to the agenda of any one party or among the varying ethnic groups,” said Adel Nouri, a senior member of the Kurdistan Islamic Union Party.

Twenty of the council’s 25 members supported the nine-person rotating chief executive, said Nouri Al-Badran, a spokesman for the Iraqi National Accord, a party represented on the council.

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq who shepherded the council into existence through weeks of intense negotiations, attended the session yesterday after returning from Washington for consultations.

After the council met in Baghdad’s Convention Center, a member lashed out at Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa for failing to recognize the interim government’s authority. He said the council would not send representatives to the Cairo-based organization, the region’s most important, if often ineffectual, political body.

“We don’t want to go where we are not welcome,” council member Naseer Kamel al-Chaderchi told Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arab satellite network.

Mr. Moussa, in an interview with CNN from the United Nations, stood by his assessment of the council, saying it was “a step in the right direction” but not representative of the Iraqi people.

“We want [the Americans] also to know that this is an abnormal situation and cannot continue in this way,” Mr. Moussa said.

The council decision on a president came a day after an audiotape attributed to Saddam said it was “good news” that his sons Uday and Qusai Hussein were killed in a July 22 shootout with U.S. soldiers because they now were martyrs.

The tape appeared to erase any remaining doubt among Iraqis that the feared brothers were dead. A CIA official said yesterday on the condition of anonymity that the tape appeared to be authentic.

With the intensification of the hunt for Saddam over the past week, U.S. military authorities believe the former dictator is constantly on the move.

“He’s going to start making mistakes, and we’re going to catch him,” a 4th Infantry Division spokeswoman, Maj. Josslyn Aberle, said in Tikrit.

“We estimate he’s not staying more than four hours at the same place,” she said. “But the man’s been a master of hiding all his life.”

In Tikrit, soldiers interrogated one of Saddam’s main bodyguards, his Tikrit security chief and a militia leader, who is believed to be behind attacks on U.S. troops, Maj. Bryan Luke said. The captives were not helpful, he said.

“Every time we ask them a question, we get a different answer,” Maj. Luke said. “They’re not cooperating.”

In far northern Iraq, meanwhile, U.S. officers said they found evidence that non-Iraqi fighters are among guerrillas attacking Americans. The officers said on the condition of anonymity they were finding rocket-propelled grenades wired to timers, a weapon used against coalition forces by insurgents in Afghanistan.

Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist organization and remnants of the Taliban are believed responsible for the continued attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But it was not clear what role the foreigners are playing in the insurgency in Iraq that has killed 49 American soldiers since May 1, when President Bush declared major combat over.

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