- The Washington Times - Friday, February 10, 2006

Iraq’s majority Shi’ite coalition is to announce its nominee for the powerful post of prime minister this weekend, as certified election results released yesterday confirmed the Shi’ites’ overwhelming victory at the polls.

Iraqi officials and U.S. sources said yesterday the nomination was likely to go to either Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi of the powerful pro-Iranian Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) or Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the Islamic Dawa party.

“Tomorrow we will see who will be prime minister,” Karim al-Musawi, SCIRI’s Washington-based spokesman said yesterday. He deemed Mr. Mahdi’s chances of getting the top post as very good.

The formation of a new government — which promises to be a much-stormier process — will take place within the next “six to eight weeks,” Mr. al-Musawi said.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad welcomed the results and called for “a government based on national unity, formed without regard to sectarianism, committed to peace and with capable ministers who place loyalty to Iraq above that of loyalty to faction.”

The announcements did nothing to stem the daily sectarian violence in Iraq, as a car bomb exploded outside a Sunni mosque in Baghdad’s Dora district, killing nine persons and wounding dozens.

The U.S. military announced that two Marines were killed the previous day by a roadside bomb near Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad.

The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq announced the certified results of the Dec. 15 vote after a protracted appeals process amid accusations of fraud and ballot-box stuffing.

According to the final tally, the Shi’ite United Iraqi Alliance won 128 seats; the Kurdish alliance got 53 seats; the Sunni Iraqi Accord Front won 44 seats; the secular list headed by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi won 25 seats; the Sunni Iraqi Front for National Dialogue won 11 seats; the Kurdistan Islamic Union got five seats; and a smattering of smaller parties won nine seats.

The nomination of a prime minister is partly the result of pressure by American and British officials to move forward on the election results. Unofficial final results were released on Jan. 20.

“What we will probably see is the announcement of a [Shi’ite] alliance candidate, Adil Abdul Mahdi of SCIRI or Mr. al-Jaafari,” said Jonathan Morrow of the Washington-based U.S. Institute of Peace.

According to Iraq’s constitution, President Jalal Talabani must convene the new 275-seat parliament within two weeks of election certification.

In the next 90 days, parliament will elect a three-person presidency council, which, in turn, will appoint a prime minister. The prime minister then names a Cabinet, which must be confirmed by parliament.

In reality, close observers of the process say, there will be a lot of closed-door negotiations, and only when the whole package is decided will any announcements be made.

“Nothing will be agreed until it is all agreed,” said Mr. Morrow, who is often in Iraq as a legal consultant to the constitutional process. Major horse-trading is expected among Sunni, Kurd and Shi’ite factions concerning key ministries.

SCIRI officials say senior ministry posts — such as interior — will remain in Shi’ite hands, while junior ministries would be parceled out among the minority Kurds and Sunnis.

U.S. officials see a new government as a prerequisite to quelling the Sunni-backed insurgency.

But Mr. Morrow cautioned that the deep Sunni antagonism to the new government of Iraq will not be resolved simply by seeing the people they voted for holding ministerial posts.

“Their anxiety is more deep-seated,” he said. “It is based on the construction of the Iraqi state and on Sunni Arabs not getting their share of the oil revenues.”

A SCIRI official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, agreed that tough negotiations are ahead. “The ministerial position distribution will be OK, but federalism and oil — these are the obstacles in the road,” he said in a telephone interview.

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