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Analysis: Allawi, Al-Ja'fari To Vie For Iraqi Premiership

Ibrahim al-Ja'fari (file photo) Negotiations between members of the Shi'ite United Iraqi Alliance list concluded on 22 February with alliance members agreeing to nominate Islamic Al-Da'wah leader Ibrahim al-Ja'fari as its candidate for the position of prime minister in the transitional government. Iraqi National Congress head Ahmad Chalabi had challenged al-Ja'fari for the nomination, but dropped out earlier in the day. Al-Ja'fari will now face interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi for the post, the latter having announced on 21 February that his party nominated him for the position.

It appears, however, that al-Ja'fari remains the frontrunner for prime minister. Under the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), Iraq's interim constitution issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority, once the transitional National Assembly convenes, it must elect by a two-thirds majority a Presidency Council consisting of a president and two deputy presidents. That council would, in turn, nominate by unanimous decision, a prime minister, who would then be put to a confidence vote by the transitional National Assembly.

According to the TAL: "The Presidency Council shall name a prime minister unanimously, as well as the members of the Council of Ministers upon the recommendation of the prime minister. The prime minister and Council of Ministers shall then seek to obtain a vote of confidence by simple majority from the National Assembly prior to commencing their work as a government. The Presidency Council must agree on a candidate for the post of prime minister within two weeks. In the event that it fails to do so, the responsibility of naming the prime minister reverts to the National Assembly. In that event, the National Assembly must confirm the nomination by two-thirds majority. If the prime minister is unable to nominate his council of ministers within one month, the Presidency Council shall name another prime minister."

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) head Jalal Talabani is reportedly widely favored for the presidential appointment. The only apparent challenger for the post is interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir. It is not known who is favored to be named as the deputies, but Chalabi could be in the running after stepping aside for the more prestigious prime-minister post. Media reports have also indicated that Chalabi could vie for the position of foreign minister, or another high-level position in the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2005).

Kurdish Kingmaker

With the deputies not known, it is difficult to predict whether al-Ja'fari or Allawi would be the Presidency Council's nominee. Talabani, the assumed head of the council, is on good terms with both men. However, given the fact that Allawi remains outside the United Iraqi Alliance, which won 140 seats in the National Assembly election, it's likely that Talabani would lend his support to al-Ja'fari. Together, the United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan Coalition list hold 215 seats on the National Assembly, enough to gain a two-thirds majority in the parliament.

Talabani, however, would first seek guarantees from al-Ja'fari in exchange for his support, namely, federalism, the future constitution, and provisions in the TAL, including on the resettlement of Iraqi Kurds to Kirkuk, and the relationship between state and religion. Al-Ja'fari has already pledged to form a national unity government, inclusive of Sunnis and other minorities. He has a proven track record as a conciliator (see Profile:Ibrahim al-Ja'fari). If al-Ja'fari secures the Presidency Council's nomination, he will be the transitional prime minister, since, as the United Iraqi Alliance-backed candidate, he can secure a simple majority vote of confidence by the transitional assembly's 140 alliance members.

Allawi arguably has a proven track record as a leader, but his failure to elicit greater Sunni participation in the election will be a factor. Likewise, he has also come up against criticism by Shi'ite leaders in the United Iraqi Alliance for his support for the return of Ba'athists to the army and government.

For the latest news and analysis on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".

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