Iraq's Shiites select candidate for prime minister position

New choice must gain approval from legislature, Kurds

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Interim Vice President Ibrahim al-Jaafari was chosen as his Shiite ticket's candidate for prime minister Tuesday after Ahmad Chalabi dropped his bid, senior alliance officials said.\nAl-Jaafari's selection means he likely will lead Iraq's first democratically elected government in 50 years. But first he has to be approved by a coalition that likely will include the Kurds, and then he must be approved by a majority of the newly elected National Assembly.\nPressure from within the ranks of the United Iraqi Alliance, which won Iraq's landmark Jan. 30 election, forced the withdrawal of Chalabi, a one-time Pentagon favorite, said Hussein al-Moussawi from the Shiite Political Council, an umbrella group for 38 Shiite parties.\nAl-Jaafari said dealing with insurgents and re-establishing security would be the first task of his government if he becomes prime minister. \n"The security situation is the first matter we will address," he said.\nSome of Chalabi's aides, including Qaisar Witwit, suggested he was being offered the post of deputy prime minister in charge of economic and security affairs. When asked about such a deal, Chalabi said simply, "We will see."\nChalabi said he dropped out of the race "for the unity of the alliance." He would not say if he had been offered a post in the new government.\nUntil Chalabi agreed to withdraw, the 140 members of the alliance had planned to decide between the two in a secret ballot Tuesday.\nThe decision came after three days of round-the-clock negotiations by senior members of the clergy-backed alliance, which emerged from the election with a 140-seat majority in the 275-member National Assembly, or parliament.\nThe office of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, confirmed that Chalabi had withdrawn his bid to be prime minister.\n"Chalabi announced his withdrawal, and everyone agreed on al-Jaafari. Then Chalabi declared his support to al-Jaafari," said Haytham al Husaini, a top al-Hakim aide.\nSCIRI, the main group making up the alliance, tried for days to persuade Chalabi to quit the race, some of its senior officials said.\nAl-Jaafari's only other likely opponent for the post would be interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who was nominated for the job by his group. The Iraqi List got only 14 percent of the vote in the election.\nAl-Jaafari would not say if he had approached Allawi with an offer so he would drop out.\n"Whether someone is a member of the alliance or not doesn't mean they don't have the opportunity to play a role in this new government," al-Jaafari said.\nThe United Iraqi Alliance took 48 percent of the vote last month but needs to form a coalition with smaller parties to form the new government.\nKurdish parties, who won 26 percent, have indicated in the past they would support the Shiite candidate for prime minister in return for support for their candidate for the presidency.\nThe assembly must approve candidates for president and two vice presidents by a two-thirds majority. The president and vice presidents, in turn, will nominate a prime minister, who must be approved by a simple majority of the assembly.\nThe assembly also will draft a constitution.\nA date for the parliament's opening has not been set.\nThe conservative Al-Jaafari, a 58-year-old family doctor, is the main spokesman for the Islamic Dawa Party, which waged a bloody campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime in the late 1970s. Saddam crushed the campaign in 1982, and Dawa based itself in Iran.\nIn an interview with The Associated Press last week, he said calling for the immediate withdrawal of coalition troops would be a "mistake" given the lack of security in Iraq.\nThe secular Chalabi is a former exile leader who heavily promoted the idea that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. He later fell out with some key members of the Bush administration over allegations that he passed secrets to Iran.

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