- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

BAGHDAD — Cementing Iraq’s first democratic government in 50 years, Jalal Talabani, one of Saddam Hussein’s most implacable enemies, took his oath as president yesterday and quickly named another longtime foe of the ousted dictator, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to the powerful post of prime minister.

“This day represents a democratic process and a step forward,” Mr. al-Jaafari said later. “I’m faced with a big responsibility, and I pray to God that everyone will work hand in hand and that their efforts will lead to progress and development.”

The swearing-in ceremony came just two days short of the second anniversary of Baghdad’s fall to U.S.-led forces and underlined the growing power of and cooperation between the Shi’ite Arab majority and Kurdish minority — groups that were long oppressed by Saddam’s regime.

The Washington Times reported Tuesday that Mr. Talabani would be named president, with two vice presidents — Adel Abdul-Mahdi and Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer.

The new government’s main task will be to draft a permanent constitution and lay the groundwork for elections in December, although some worry that the two months of political wrangling taken up in forming the leadership hasn’t left enough time.

There were more stumbles in yesterday’s proceedings.

After his inaugural speech, Mr. Talabani, a Kurd, walked off the stage, and came back about 10 minutes later to announce that the president’s council — Mr. Talabani and his two vice presidents — had, as expected, selected Mr. al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite Arab leader, as interim prime minister.

Some Iraqis have expressed concern about Mr. al-Jaafari’s close ties to the Islamic government in Iran and his work for the conservative Islamic Dawa Party, which has called for the implementation of Islamic law in Iraq. But lawmakers didn’t express any reservations yesterday.

Mr. al-Jaafari said women will play a bigger role in his government, and he promised to fight the violence of the insurgency.

“There are two kinds of terrorism: terrorism from inside Iraq — and these are criminals, some of them with ties to the former regime — and the other is the terrorism exported from abroad,” he said.

Saddam, who watched a videotape of Mr. Talabani’s election on Wednesday, was not expected to be shown yesterday’s ceremony.

Mr. Talabani — whose post is largely ceremonial — reached out yesterday to Sunni Arabs, who are believed to make up the backbone of the insurgency and were the dominant group under Saddam.

“It is time for our Sunni brothers to participate in the democratic march,” the president said.

Lawmakers have appointed Sunni Arabs to several top posts in an effort to build a broad-based government, but prominent Sunni Arab groups have distanced themselves from the new administration.

Sunni Arabs have only 17 seats in parliament, largely because many boycotted the Jan. 30 elections. Shi’ites have 140 of the 275 seats in the National Assembly, while Kurds have the second largest bloc with 75 seats.

Mr. al-Jaafari has a month to name his Cabinet, clearing the way for the new government to begin drafting a permanent constitution before an Aug. 15 deadline. If the constitution is approved in an October referendum, elections for a permanent government are to be held in December.

Parliament Speaker Hashim al-Hassani, a Sunni Arab, urged Iraq’s new leaders to begin work immediately. “Your people are looking at you and waiting,” he said. “So, work.”

He said outgoing Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who took over from a U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council in June, turned in his resignation yesterday, but was asked to conduct the day-to-day work of the government until the Cabinet is named.

Meanwhile, armed men yesterday blew up Shi’ite Muslims’ al-Khudir shrine in the Latifiyah area, 35 miles south of Baghdad, police said.

Insurgents fired rockets into Fallujah, the restive city in Anbar province, and Marines returned fire, the U.S. military said.

In the northern city of Mosul, a bomb attack killed three Iraqi soldiers and wounded 20, an Iraqi army commander said.

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