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Iraqi prime minister named despite flubbed ceremony

Friday, April 8, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqis have been waiting for weeks, but nearly everyone missed the big event Thursday: the naming of the man who will lead the country's first democratically elected government in a half century.

Jalal Talabani, a prominent Kurd just sworn in as interim president, had been expected to announce at the end of his inauguration speech that the President's Council selected Shiite Arab leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari to be prime minister.

He didn't, and when the president walked off stage, lawmakers thought the ceremony was over. They began to file out, and television cameras and microphones were switched off.

But Talabani had just gone to consult with the other members of the President's Council -- his two vice presidents.

The blunder illustrated the often chaotic process of building a new Iraq, and capped two months of wrangling over who would lead the administration. But despite the snag, the end result reflected an important trend: the growing power and cooperation of the Shiite Arab majority and Kurdish minority -- two groups that were long oppressed by Saddam Hussein's regime.

While some Shiite leaders grumbled about "bad management," al-Jaafari wasn't upset, telling reporters after the session: "This day represents a democratic process and a step forward."

"I'm faced with a big responsibility, and I pray to God that everyone will work hand-in-hand and that their efforts will lead to progress and development," he added, speaking just two days short of the second anniversary of Baghdad's fall to U.S.-led forces.

Some Iraqis have expressed concern about al-Jaafari's close ties to the Islamic government in Iran and his work for the conservative Islamic Dawa Party, which has called for the implementation of Islamic law. But lawmakers didn't express any reservations Thursday.

Al-Jaafari said women will play a bigger role in his government, and he promised to fight the violence of the insurgency.

"There are two kinds of terrorism: terrorism from inside Iraq -- and these are criminals, some of them with ties to the former regime -- and the other is the terrorism exported from abroad," he said.

Iraq's new leaders were longtime foes of Saddam, who watched a videotape of Talabani's election Wednesday but was not expected to be shown Thursday's ceremony.

Shiite Arabs and Kurds have worked together in putting the government together, and Talabani -- whose post is largely ceremonial -- reached out Thursday to Sunni Arabs, who are believed to make up the backbone of the insurgency and were the dominant group under Saddam.

"It is time for our Sunni brothers to participate in the democratic march," the president said.

Lawmakers have appointed Sunni Arabs to several top posts in an effort to build a broad-based government, but prominent Sunni Arab groups have distanced themselves from the new administration.

Al-Jaafari has a month to name his Cabinet, clearing the way for the new government to begin drafting a permanent constitution before an Aug. 15 deadline. If the constitution is approved in an October referendum, elections for a permanent government are to be held in December.

Parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani, a Sunni Arab, urged Iraq's new leaders to begin immediately. "Your people are looking at you and waiting," he said. "So, work!"

Al-Hassani added that outgoing interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who took over from a U.S.-appointed National Governing Council in June, turned in his resignation Thursday. But he said Allawi was asked to conduct the day-to-day work of the government until the Cabinet is named.

In violence Thursday, armed men blew up Shiite Muslims' al-Khudir shrine in the Latifiya area, 35 miles south of Baghdad, Babil police spokesman Muthana Khalid said.

Insurgents fired rockets into Fallujah, the restive city in Anbar province, the U.S. military said. It said Marines returned fire but did not immediately know if the rockets caused any damage.

In the northern city of Mosul, a bomb attack on an Iraqi army patrol killed three soldiers and wounded 20, said Maj. Gen. Khalil Ahmed al-Obeidi, the Iraqi commander in Mosul. Seven assailants were captured, he said.


Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin, Qasim Abdul-Zahra, Omar Sinan and Mariam Fam contributed to this report.


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