- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2005

BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said yesterday that he was forming a broad coalition to fight for the post of prime minister in the new government after Iraq’s dominant Shi’ite political party nominated a conservative candidate.

Mr. Allawi, a secular Shi’ite, skirted criticism of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who was nominated Tuesday by the United Iraqi Alliance as its candidate for prime minister. The decision made Mr. al-Jaafari the overwhelming favorite for the post.

When asked whether he feared Mr. al-Jaafari’s alliance could impose Islamic rule, Mr. Allawi said he opposed the creation of any form of Islamic government.

“We are liberal powers, and we believe in a liberal Iraq and not an Iraq governed by political Islamists. But as a person, he is an honorable man, fighter and a good brother,” Mr. Allawi said.

Mr. Allawi would not provide details about his proposed coalition.

“There are other lists and other brothers in smaller lists which won the elections, and we are working with some of those lists to form a national Iraqi democratic coalition which believes in Iraq and its principles,” Mr. Allawi said at a press conference, flanked by two ministers who are members of his secular coalition, the Iraqi List.

Kurdish parties also have weighed in with their demands for top jobs, including the post of president.

Mr. al-Jaafari is one of two current vice presidents and the leader of a religious party that fought dictator Saddam Hussein.

For Mr. al-Jaafari, 58, to succeed, he will have to meet conflicting demands from Kurds, Sunni Arabs and even Islamic hard-liners within his alliance.

Iraq’s secular Kurds and many Sunnis worry that Mr. al-Jaafari will try to impose his Dawa party’s brand of conservative Islam on the country.

Mr. al-Jaafari’s selection Tuesday came after former Washington ally Ahmed Chalabi dropped out of the race after three days of round-the-clock bargaining. Mr. al-Jaafari has been seen as having close ties to Iran’s ruling clergy, although he denies any links to a government that President Bush has labeled part of an “axis of evil.”

To take the position of prime minister, Mr. al-Jaafari must build a coalition to gain agreement from Kurds and others on the presidency and candidates for Cabinet posts before seeking the support of a majority of the National Assembly, which was elected Jan. 30.

Mr. al-Jaafari is “a man I can work with, but to discuss who will be the prime minister of Iraq, this still needs more time,” Vice President Rowsch Shaways, a Kurd, told reporters. “We aim to get a high rank in the government institutions. We aim to get one of the top positions, and we aim to participate in the council of ministers, suitable with our percentage in the elections.”

Kurdish parties, which won 75 seats in the 275-seat National Assembly, want Jalal Talabani, a secular Sunni Kurd and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, to be Iraq’s next president.

The Shi’ite Muslim clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance won 140 seats, and Mr. Allawi’s Iraqi List won 40 seats. The remaining 20 seats were divided among nine other parties.

According to the interim constitution adopted last year by the Iraqi Governing Council, parliament must elect a president and two vice presidents by a two-thirds majority. The three then unanimously must choose a prime minister subject to assembly approval.

There is no timetable for the assembly to convene.

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