- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2005

BAGHDAD — The Shi’ite Muslim heading the ticket expected to have won the largest number of parliamentary seats in Iraq’s election said yesterday that his group wants the post of prime minister in the new government.

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim also said in an interview that the new government will include Sunni Arabs, many of whom stayed away from the polls Sunday either out of fear of rebel attacks or because of a clerical boycott call.

The level of violence appears to have plummeted since the election, much as it did for a while after the transfer of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government in June.

It is not clear whether the drop is a result of disillusionment within insurgent ranks, the effects of stringent pre-election security measures, or a pause by the militants to reassess their strategy in light of the balloting.

“The coming days and weeks will show whether this retreat will continue or whether it is tactical because of the strike against them,” Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told Al-Iraqiya television.

Although no results or turnout figures have been released from Sunday’s elections, U.S. officials say participation appeared much lower in Sunni areas, where the insurgency is strongest, than in other parts of the country.

The Sunni-led Association of Muslim Scholars, which had called for a boycott of the elections, said yesterday that the vote “lacks legitimacy because a large portion of these people who represent many spectra have boycotted it.”

As a result, the group said, the still-to-be-named winners would lack a mandate to draft a new constitution — a major task of the national assembly elected Sunday — and should be considered a temporary administration.

Mr. al-Hakim, whose United Iraqi Alliance is widely thought to have won the largest share of the 275 assembly seats, said representatives of all Iraqi groups, including Sunnis, should participate in writing the constitution.

Mr. al-Hakim, a Shi’ite cleric with close ties to Iran, also said his United Iraqi Alliance had “a group of suitable candidates” for the post of prime minister, suggesting that his faction would not support a candidate from outside its ranks.

Mr. Allawi, a secular Shi’ite backed by the United States, has been mentioned as a compromise choice because of his appeal to some non-Shi’ites.

Mr. al-Hakim said the Alliance, a coalition of several parties and individuals, had not settled on its candidate for prime minister. Under the interim constitution, a two-thirds majority of the assembly must agree on a president and two vice presidents. The presidential council then will pick the prime minister, subject to ratification by the assembly.

Whether the United Iraqi Alliance can dictate the choice of prime minister depends on whether it can control two-thirds of the assembly seats — either on its own or in concert with smaller factions. The coalition is dominated by two Shi’ite parties — the Supreme Council for the Islamic Republic in Iraq, known as SCIRI, and Dawa.

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