Jaafari set to become next Iraqi prime minister

SHIITE politician and former exile Ibrahim Al Jaafari has emerged as the front-runner to become Iraq's new prime minister as negotiations to decide the line-up of the next government enter their final stages.

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By  Rhys Jones Published  February 20, 2005

SHIITE politician and former exile Ibrahim Al Jaafari has emerged as the front-runner to become Iraq's new prime minister as negotiations to decide the line-up of the next government enter their final stages. Jaafari is head of the Dawa Party, one of two leading religious parties in the United Iraqi Alliance, an Islamist Shiite-led group which won 48% of the vote in elections on January 30. “The competition is still fierce, but it appears so far that Jaafari will be the United Iraqi Alliance candidate because Dawa is insisting on him,” said a senior Shiite source. The 58-year-old, who holds the largely ceremonial role of vice president in the current interim government, fled Iraq in 1980 after thousands of Dawa members were murdered by Saddam Hussein. His family remains in London. While the alliance did not win the 60% it hoped for, the vote puts the coalition in a commanding position to take the top job in the next government. A two-thirds majority is needed in the newly elected National Assembly to form a government. The alliance, formed with the backing of top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, is headed by Dawa and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), both of which opposed Saddam Hussein from exile in Iran. The source said SCIRI, led by Abdel-Aziz Al Hakim, had agreed to support Jaafari and withdraw its candidate, Finance Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, “to preserve the unity of the alliance”, which some had feared could collapse after the vote. Meanwhile, it is expected that the Kurds, who took 25% of the vote, will play a key role in the talks as Iraqis look towards a reduction and eventual withdrawal of US troops. The Kurds’ powerful showing puts them in a strong position, if they combine forces with the Shiite alliance, the pair would have more than two-thirds in the assembly and would be able to decide between them who takes what job, including ministries. The Kurds want Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, to be Iraq’s president and are likely to support the Shiite choice for prime minister if they get their way. While the Shiite bloc won slightly less than half the vote, it could end up with about 140 seats in the assembly — two more than a majority — once those votes that went to candidates who did not get enough to secure a seat are redistributed. The Kurds’ second-place showing means they will get around 70 seats in the 275-member assembly. A list headed by interim prime minister Iyad Allawi came third and will have about 40 seats. It now looks unlikely that Allawi, Iraq’s leading secular Shiite, will have a senior role in the next government. Sunni Arabs, most of whom either boycotted the vote or did not turn out because of violence, are set to get barely five seats in the assembly, leaving Iraq’s once dominant minority out in the cold and raising fresh fears of sectarian attacks.

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