- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

BAGHDAD — Sunni Muslim Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer was named to be Iraq’s interim president yesterday, a move welcomed by many Iraqis who see him as a strong tribal chief capable of leading the nation through elections early next year.

At a ceremony held under intense security in Baghdad’s military-run “Green Zone,” Mr. al-Yawer, 46, said he would rise “above sectarianism and divisions” and work to build a democracy with a “civilized face.”

He also pledged to work toward restoring “complete sovereignty of our country and establishing a democratic and federal system under which people enjoy a free citizenship in a state of laws and freedom.”

Even as he spoke, a car bomb exploded outside the gates of the closed-off area, killing at least three persons and injuring 20. Mortar fire rained into the dusty compound.

At United Nations’ headquarters in New York, the United States and Britain yesterday circulated a revised resolution on post-occupation Iraq that would give the new interim government control over the army and police and end the mandate for the multinational force by January 2006 at the latest.

The draft was introduced at a Security Council meeting just hours after the full composition of the interim government was announced in Baghdad. Russia, France, Germany and other council members have said that they want to see whether the government is acceptable to the more than 20 million Iraqis before they adopt a resolution.

Many council members also want to consult with the new leadership on the text, and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was headed to New York to press the council for full sovereignty for his country.

Although the position of Iraqi president is largely ceremonial, Iraqis appeared relieved that a Sunni tribal leader had been chosen to balance the Shi’ite majority power in the country. Iyad Allawi, a Shi’ite, was named Friday to serve as prime minister.

Named at the ceremony with Mr. al-Yawer were two vice presidents — Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the Shi’ite Muslim Dawa party and Rowsch Shaways, speaker of parliament in the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. Another Kurd, Barham Saleh, was named deputy prime minister for national security affairs.

Rounding out the new Cabinet was an ethnically balanced mix of 31 lawyers, politicians, academics, human rights activists, engineers and businessmen who will take over day-to-day operations of their ministries immediately. Six of them are women.

The Iraqi Governing Council unexpectedly dissolved itself immediately after the announcement so that the new government could start work even before taking power at the end of the month.

In Washington, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said, “I can tell you firmly and without any contradiction: This is a terrific list, a really good government, and we are very pleased with the names that have emerged.”

Judith Kipper, director of the Middle East Forum at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, “What is important is what the Iraqis think. … If they perform, and create an Iraqi consciousness that can control society and provide security … if they are rebuilding Iraq, creating jobs, preparing for elections, then it will be fine.”

Reactions on the streets of Baghdad were cautiously positive.

Mr. al-Yawer “is a good man, with a good personality, and from a very well-known tribe,” said Muhammad Ali, who runs a hookah shop in the capital’s busy shopping district of Karrada.

University student Muhammad Kalady, 20, appeared ready to give Mr. al-Yawer a chance. “He needs to improve security,” he said simply.

Muhammad Ibrahim, who helps run a candy store in Karrada, agreed. “We don’t know him yet,” he said. “But Ghazi has the support of the Shi’ite majority and the Kurds, so has the backing of some 75 percent of the Iraqis.”

The announcement had been postponed a day because of a deadlock between the Governing Council and U.S. authorities over the choice of president. That ended when Adnan Pachachi, the candidate put forward by United Nations’ envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and favored by the Americans, withdrew from consideration.

“The main thing now is reconciliation,” Mr. Pachachi said, emphasizing the need for a unified Iraq in the months leading up to national elections in January.

“I believe the president should be a factor of unity,” he said, adding that the new leadership needed to “make sure that, with the exception of those involved in crimes under Saddam, that everyone should be given a chance.” Dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted by U.S.-led forces early last year.

Among the first challenges for the new government will be to negotiate a status of armed forces agreement with the United States spelling out the conditions under which coalition forces will operate.

Iraqis are demanding a greater say over the operations of the roughly 135,000 U.S. troops and other multinational forces in the country, but realize that they are dependent on the foreign troops for security.

Iraq needs the troops “to help in defeating the enemies,” Mr. Allawi said yesterday. “We will enter into alliances with our allies to accomplish that.”

Mr. Allawi is expected to rehire some of Saddam’s military leaders to regain control of the security situation in Iraq, shaken daily by bombs, rocket fire and widespread kidnapping.

“If someone rehires a few persons from the intelligence service and secret police — because they know everybody and every hole in Iraq — and the military, that would be the best way to restore security,” said Kamal Torson, 60, who works for a U.S. contractor in Baghdad.

But apart from the more militant Muslims and nationalists, few Iraqis are calling for U.S. forces to leave.

“This government is not based on anything. It has no power. The only power here is the American military,” Mr. Torson said.

“People fear … a government without authority and a U.S. military that will accept no other authority except itself. But I don’t think the new government will clash with the U.S. military — they know they are still under occupation.”

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