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Three Shia rivals emerge in tussle to be PM

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1412294,00.html Three Shia rivals emerge in tussle to be PM Contenders include former exile who misled US on
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 13, 2005

      Three Shia rivals emerge in tussle to be PM

      Contenders include former exile who misled US on
      weapons as final voting tally confirms sweeping
      victory for United Iraqi Alliance

      Rory Carroll in Baghdad
      Monday February 14, 2005
      The Guardian

      Three rivals within the Shia-dominated coalition which
      triumphed in Iraq's election moved swiftly last night
      to bid for the job of prime minister.

      Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Adel Abdul Mahdi are barely
      known outside the country and Ahmad Chalabi is more
      infamous than famous. Yet one of them is expected to
      become overnight a crucial player in the Middle East.

      Yesterday's announcement of the final tally from the
      January 30 election confirmed a sweeping victory for
      the United Iraqi Alliance, though its 47.6% of votes
      cast was lower than some predictions.

      It was enough, however, for leaders of the three main
      groupings within the coalition to advance their claim
      for the most powerful post in government, working the
      phones late into the night and sending emissaries to
      potential allies.

      After the drama of election day when millions voted
      despite threats from insurgents, politics will now
      become a game of largely behind-the-scenes deal making
      between and within coalitions.

      Trailing far behind the Shia list was a Kurdish
      alliance with 26% and a list headed by the outgoing
      prime minister, Ayad Allawi, with 13.8%, giving the
      United Iraqi Alliance a strong claim over the prime
      ministership, a more powerful job than the presidency
      or national assembly chair.

      It will be the first time that Shias, comprising 60%
      of the population, have ruled Iraq after decades of
      domination by the minority Sunnis. The three leading
      candidates are secular male Shias who were exiled
      under Saddam Hussein's regime but otherwise have
      little in common.

      Many analysts consider the favourite to be Mr Mahdi,
      63, an economist who served as finance minister in the
      outgoing interim government. The son of a guerrilla
      who fought the British in the 1920s, he joined the
      Ba'ath party in the 1960s when it espoused Arab
      nationalism and socialist economics but says he quit
      the movement in 1964 when members like Saddam moved up
      the ranks by killing opponents.

      Mr Mahdi fled to France, where he obtained degrees in
      politics and economics and dabbled in Maoism before
      moving to Iran and joining the Supreme Council for the
      Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), a group of exiles
      who campaigned for Saddam's over throw and an
      Islamic-guided government in their homeland. Some
      analysts wonder whether the urbane Mr Mahdi is a front
      man for hardliners within his party who want an
      Iran-style theocracy in Iraq guided by the country's
      leading Shia cleric.

      Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is credited as the
      architect of the Shia coalition who gathered rival
      parties under one banner. The 76-year-old cleric will
      retain influence regardless of who becomes prime

      Mr Mahdi's main rival is Mr Jaafari, 57, a physician
      who polls suggest is Iraq's most popular politician
      after the grand ayatollah. Dr Jaafari, who was exiled
      in Britain, is considered a moderate.

      Security was so tight around his compound in Baghdad's
      heavily protected green zone yesterday that visitors
      were asked to remove all equipment, including watches.

      "If asked to be prime minister I would be willing to
      serve our nation," he said. "We have a responsibility
      now to work together for the sake of the people. They
      have made this magnificent gesture and we should all
      take it seriously and make it work." He advocated an
      inclusive administration that would respect the Kurds'
      mandate and reach out to Sunnis who abstained en masse
      from the election, partly because of threats from
      insurgents such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: "It is a
      present to Zarqawi if we push them from the

      The third candidate, Mr Chalabi, is known
      internationally for heading a group of Iraqi exiles
      which fed Washington inaccurate reports of Saddam's
      weapons of mass destruction.

      The failure to find any weapons contributed to a
      breach with the US administration and a raid on his
      house by American soldiers last year. Dogged by a 1992
      conviction for embezzlement, Mr Chalabi was said to be
      one of Iraq's most unpopular politicians. But having
      got his party into the United Iraqi Alliance, he has
      courted an eclectic mix of pro-western Shias as well
      as Islamic radicals, giving him an outside chance of
      the prime minister's job if the two main candidates
      are deadlocked.

      Falling out with the Americans boosted his credibility
      with Iraqis fed up with the occupation, Mr Chalabi's
      deputy, Mudhar Shawkat, said yesterday. "It was to his

      Without fanfare, a senior US diplomat recently visited
      Mr Chalabi to restore relations.

      The next moves

      � After three days, the election results will be
      certified, if no complaints about the tally are
      upheld. A 275-member national assembly will be formed,
      its composition determined by the share of the vote
      each list of candidates receives

      � The assembly will elect a presidency council
      consisting of a president and two deputies. The
      council must have the backing of two-thirds of the

      � The three-person council will elect a prime minister
      and a cabinet. The prime minister and cabinet will
      seek approval from the national assembly in a vote of
      confidence. They need only a simple majority, 138
      votes. The government can then start work

      � The national assembly will draw up a draft
      constitution for Iraq by August 15 2005 Once the
      constitution is drafted, it must be presented to the
      Iraqi people for approval in a referendum no later
      than October 15 2005

      �If the constitution is approved, a general election
      will be held by December 15 2005, and the resulting
      government will take office before the end of the
      year. If the constitution is rejected by the
      electorate, the national assembly will be dissolved
      and an election for a new assembly will take place by
      December 15 2005 Reuters
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