- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 6, 2005

BAGHDAD — Iraqi politicians set March 16 for the opening of the country’s first democratically elected parliament in modern history as a deal hardened to name Jalal Talabani, a leader of the minority Kurds, to the presidency.

The more powerful prime minister’s job will go to Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a conservative Shi’ite who leads the Islamic Dawa party. His nomination, which the Kurds have agreed to, has been endorsed by the most powerful Shi’ite cleric in Iraq — Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani.

“This was one of our firm demands, and we agreed on it previously. The agreement states that Jalal Talabani takes the presidential post, and one of the United Iraqi Alliance members takes the prime minister’s post,” Talabani spokesman Azad Jundiyan said.

He added that the clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance had reached a preliminary agreement with the Kurds on their other conditions — including extending their territories to encompass Kirkuk.

Mr. Jundiyan said they wanted the deal on paper before going though with it, while alliance officials, including Ahmed Chalabi, said the negotiations were not over.

Meanwhile, Ali Fadhil al-Imseer took office yesterday as Baghdad’s new Shi’ite governor — the city’s first democratically elected municipal official since the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003. Provincial and municipal elections were held alongside national ones on Jan. 30.

In Mosul, 225 miles north of Baghdad, gunmen killed a prominent Sunni politician. Hana Abdul Qader, a lawyer and member of Mosul’s previous city council, was shot while leaving her home, said Noor Al-Din Saied, spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic party in the city.

U.S. soldiers assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and Iraqi forces arrested more than 60 insurgency suspects in the city of Haswa, 31 miles south of Baghdad, on Saturday, the U.S. military said.

State-run Al Iraqiya television reported that Barham Saleh, a Kurd who is deputy prime minister for national security affairs, confirmed that the 275-seat National Assembly elected in January would convene March 16.

That is the anniversary of the 1988 Saddam-ordered chemical attack on the northern Kurdish town of Halabja, which killed 5,000 people. Mr. Saleh met with alliance leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim on Saturday when the alliance convened to discuss the issue.

“The United Iraqi Alliance proposed to convene on March 15, but we proposed the 16th, the anniversary of Halabja massacre, when Saddam ordered his army in 1988 to kill Kurds with chemical weapons.

“On this day, we want to denounce this massacre as we establish a new democratic parliament,” Mr. Jundiyan said.

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