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Iraq: Brahimi Says Interim President Will Be Ghazi al-Yawir

UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi 1 June 2004 -- UN special envoy for Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi has confirmed that the new interim Iraqi president will be Ghazi al-Yawir.

Al-Yawir is a civil engineer in his 40s who left Iraq in 1990. He is a Sunni Arab with a powerful tribal support base and currently holds the monthly rotating presidency of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC).

The designation of al-Yawir as president comes as the other leading contender for the position, Adnan Pachachi, announced earlier today he was not in the race. Pachachi, a former foreign minister from the pre-Saddam Hussein era who is now in his 80s, is also an IGC member and a prominent Sunni Arab.

Brahimi said in a statement confirming al-Yawir's appointment that "Dr. Adnan Pachachi, who enjoys wide respect and support in Iraq, was offered the presidential position with the support of Sheikh Ghazi, but declined for personal reasons." The UN envoy also said he believes people across Iraq will be praying for the success of the emerging interim government, which is due to take power before 30 June.
The choice of Ghazi al-Yawir to be Iraq's first post-Hussein president concludes a tense political drama in Baghdad that was widely reported to pit Washington against the U.S.-appointed Governing Council over whose choice would fill the office.

He made his comments today while standing alongside al-Yawir and the country's appointed prime minister, Iyad Allawi. "Allow me first of all to express to both of them, and through them to their colleagues in the new government, my sincere congratulations and best wishes for the success of their mission. I think that the people of Iraq will be praying all over the country for the success of their mission, which aims at starting the rebuilding of the new Iraq," Brahimi said.

The choice of Ghazi al-Yawir to be Iraq's first post-Hussein president concludes a tense political drama in Baghdad that was widely reported to pit Washington against the U.S.-appointed Governing Council over whose choice would fill the office. Washington and Brahimi were reported to have favored Pachachi. But much of the Governing Council, which was created by the United States as a first interim administration last year, was reported to have pushed hard for al-Yawir.

The dispute threatened to become a major embarrassment for Washington before it was resolved earlier today with Brahimi's announcement. As recently as yesterday, some IGC members were publicly charging the United States with trying to force its support of Pachachi upon them.

Haidar al-Musawi, a spokesman for IGC member and Iraqi National Congress (INC) leader Ahmad Chalabi, said yesterday that only al-Yawir could provide the kind of unifying leadership Iraq needs. "We thought that Mr. [Ghazi] Ajil al-Yawir is a good choice for the next seven months, because he has been on good terms with all political parties -- not necessarily with the INC -- but we think we need a unifying government in the next seven months to prepare for the next election, and Sheikh al-Yawir is a figure of this kind," al-Musawi said.

Behind the scenes, some IGC members were blunter in their criticism of Washington's backing of Pachachi. One Governing Council member told Reuters privately today that "I don't think we're going to have any say in this. The announcement is just going to be made and imposed on us." He added, "This is not democracy, this is dictatorship."

The interim president, who will have largely ceremonial powers, will lead Iraq to its first post-Hussein elections in January. Those elections will create a constitutional assembly from which a new transitional government will be drawn. That body in turn will take the country to direct election of a permanent government by the end of next year.

U.S. officials have tried to downplay the tensions over the choice for president, saying that the process was in the hands of Brahimi and Iraqi leaders. U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor said yesterday: "Mr. Brahimi is hearing from many individuals and many groups, including the Governing Council, and when he is ready to make a formal announcement, he will. He has indicated that he thinks he will be in a position in the next several days here to make a formal announcement."

With Brahimi's confirmation of al-Yawir as president, the IGC appears to have emerged as the decisive player in composing the new Iraqi administration. The appointment of the Governing Council's candidate follows the IGC's success in also filling the more powerful role of prime minister last week.

The council on 28 May chose for the post Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi'a former exile who has had close contacts with Washington. The announcement appeared to take the United Nations by surprise. UN spokesman Fred Eckhard later said that Brahimi "respected" the IGC's choice and would work with Allawi on the filling of cabinet posts. The UN had originally spoke of Brahimi himself making an announcement of the full new government at a time of his choosing.

The high-profile role of the IGC in the selection process has surprised some observers. Many critics of the Governing Council have said the body -- made up largely of former exiles -- has limited support among Iraqis and is intent mainly on preserving power for itself.

Many members of the IGC had previously urged Washington to make it the core of the upcoming interim government, to which some additional Iraqi leaders might be added.

Partly to combat perceptions that the IGC was too narrowly based and intent on retaining power in the 30 June handover, Washington invited the United Nations to help form the new government. The world body said that Brahimi's role would be to consult widely with Iraqi leaders inside and outside the IGC and with Washington to identify candidates with broad popular support. Whether the candidates now filling the top positions of the upcoming government in fact enjoy broad popular support is likely to be a subject of continuing debate in the weeks ahead.

The United States is seeking a UN resolution to endorse the new government. But several countries, including France and Russia, have said they will approve it only if the new government is representative of the Iraqi population and enjoys full sovereign powers.

So far, the filling of positions has sought to create a balance among Iraq's ethnic and religious groups. The appointments include two vice presidents -- one Shi'a Muslim, the other a Kurd -- to serve under the Sunni Muslim president, while the prime minister-designate comes from the country's Shi'a majority.

(compiled from wire reports)