- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2005

BAGHDAD — Ahmed Chalabi yesterday dropped his bid to become the leading Shi’ite alliance’s candidate for prime minister, clearing the way for Vice President Ibrahim al-Jaafari, senior alliance officials said.

“Chalabi announced his withdrawal and everyone agreed on al-Jaafari. Then Chalabi declared his support to al-Jaafari,” said Haytham al Husaini, a top aide to Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Mr. al-Jaafari’s selection means he likely will lead Iraq’s first democratically elected government in 50 years. He has to be approved by a coalition that likely will include the Kurds, and then must be approved by a majority of the newly elected national assembly.

Pressure from within the ranks of the United Iraqi Alliance, which won Iraq’s landmark Jan. 30 elections, forced the withdrawal of Mr. Chalabi, a one-time Pentagon favorite, said Hussein al-Moussawi from the Shi’ite Political Council, an umbrella group for 38 Shi’ite parties.

Some of Mr. Chalabi’s aides, including Qaisar Witwit, suggested Mr. Chalabi was being offered the post of deputy prime minister in charge of economic and security affairs. When asked about such a deal, Mr. Chalabi said simply, “We will see.”

Mr. Chalabi said he dropped out of the race “for the unity of the alliance.” Until Mr. Chalabi agreed to withdraw, the 140 members of the alliance had planned to decide between the two in a secret ballot yesterday.

The decision came after three days of round-the-clock negotiations by senior members of the clergy-backed alliance, which emerged from the election with a 140-seat majority in the 275-member national assembly.

The conservative Mr. al-Jaafari, a 58-year-old family doctor, is the main spokesman for the Islamic Dawa Party, which waged a bloody campaign against Saddam Hussein’s regime in the late 1970s. Saddam crushed the campaign in 1982 and Dawa based itself in Iran.

Mr. al-Jaafari’s only other likely opponent for the post would be Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who was nominated for the job by his group. The Iraqi List received 14 percent of the vote — or 40 assembly seats — in the elections.

The United Iraqi Alliance took 48 percent of the vote last month but needs to forge a coalition with smaller parties to build the new government.

Kurdish parties, who won 26 percent, have indicated they would support the Shi’ite candidate for prime minister in return for support for their candidate for the presidency.

Meanwhile, two explosions echoed through Baghdad at midday. A plume of black smoke rose from the green zone, where Iraqi government offices and the U.S. Embassy are located.

Police said a car bomb exploded as an Iraqi special forces convoy passed, killing two soldiers and wounding 20 others. It was not clear what caused the other blast.

In western Baghdad, masked gunmen hurled explosives into a Shi’ite mosque in the Ghazaliyah neighborhood, police said. The explosives failed to detonate and guards opened fire on the attackers, killing one and forcing the rest to flee.

Also in Baghdad, police foiled a suicide bombing, arresting a Sudanese man who tried to detonate an explosives-laden belt inside the Adnan Khair Allah hospital, an Interior Ministry official said.

It was apparently the second suicide mission involving a Sudanese. At least one man thought to be of Sudanese origin carried out a suicide bombing Saturday in Baghdad, part of a wave of violence that killed 55 persons on Ashoura, the holiest day of the Shi’ite calendar.

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