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Iraqi Assembly Elects Talabani President

6 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Weeks of deadlock gave way to political compromise today as Iraq's new parliament approved Kurd Jalal Talabani as the country's president, with Sunni and Shi'ite choices to fill two vice-presidential posts.

In front of the parliament after his election today, Talabani outlined the main aims of the new administration as forging an inclusive Iraqi constitution that ushers in a democratic form of federalism.

"We confirm our determination to have full and constructive cooperation with your respectable national assembly, from whom our people expect a lot," Talabani said. "First of all, [they expect] the writing of the permanent constitution on the basis of consensus between main components of our Iraqi people, [and on the basis of] the TAL [Transitional Administrative Law], democracy, federalism, and complete equality between all citizens." (see also: Iraq's New President Talks to Radio Free Iraq)

Talabani -- the first Kurd to hold the Iraqi presidency -- said he hopes to unify the country and vowed to "spare no effort to present Iraq as a model of democracy." He also said the new administration will seek to consolidate Iraqi national unity and ensure rights for every citizen.
Iraqi political parties have tried to reach some kind of political equilibrium by appointing a Sunni Arab, al-Yawir, and a Shi’ite Arab, current Finance Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi, as Talabani's deputies.

“[We want] to achieve and consolidate Iraq's national unity based on free choice and the will to coexist and achieve full equality in rights and duties for all, without distinction for religion, sect, ethnic origin, or race," Talabani said. "Peace to those who follow the right way in this field.”

Lawmakers chose interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir, a Sunni Arab, along with Shi'ite candidate Adil Abd al-Mahdi to be Iraq's two vice presidents.

Symbolic Importance

Yahia Said, a researcher specializing in Iraq and other transitional nations at the London School of Economics, said the position of president is important although largely symbolic.

However, Said said Talabani's election would provide a psychological boost to ethnic Kurds and indicate that Kurds can expect a firm say in ruling the country.

"It will show the Kurds that they can fulfill their national aspirations and national interests within a federal unified Iraq and can have a significant role to play in the whole country," Said said.

Said added that Talabani's appointment was also likely to weaken Kurdish separatist influences in the country.

Talabani, a Sunni Muslim, is the chairman of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two major Kurdish political parties in Iraq. Throughout his political career, Talabani fought former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. After Hussein was deposed, Talabani became a member of the Iraqi provisional Governing Council, set up by the United States.

Seeking Balance

Iraqi political parties have tried to reach some kind of political equilibrium by appointing a Sunni Arab, al-Yawir, and a Shi’ite Arab, current Finance Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi, as Talabani's deputies.

The three politicians received 227 votes in the 275-member assembly.

Former interim President al-Yawir is a tribal leader and a businessman. The 45-year-old moderate Sunni was educated in the United States and has strong ties in Washington and support inside Iraq.

Abd al-Mahdi is a senior official in the Supreme Council For the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one of the two main Shi’ite political parties. He is also a former SCIRI candidate for the post of prime minister.

The United Iraqi Alliance and an alliance of Kurdish parties won the two biggest blocs of seats in Iraq's 30 January parliamentary elections. The Shi'a alliance won 140 seats in the National Assembly but needs the Kurds' 75 seats for the two-thirds majority required to elect a president.

Naming A Government

The president and vice presidents now have to name a prime minister within two weeks.

Shi’ites and Kurds have agreed that Shi’ite politician Ibrahim al-Ja'fari is the man for the prime minister’s job. Al-Ja'fari heads the Shi’ite Islamic Al-Dawah Party, which is a member of the United Iraqi Alliance.

Yahia Said said al-Ja'fari would be very different from outgoing secular Shi’ite interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

"He's a moderate Islamist, a leader of a party that is known for its fight against Saddam Hussein over many decades," Said said. "It has had many victims. He's an Islamist nationalist who will have a lot of challenges ahead of him, especially dealing with the fractious parliament."

It is expected that al-Ja'fari will be officially appointed this week.

There are two main problems the new government will have to deal with -- armed resistance and Sunnis remaining outside the political process. Said saif that these Sunnis who are already appointed are not candidates who were broadly endorsed by the Sunni community.

Most Sunni voters stayed home on 30 January amid security concerns and calls from some community leaders to boycott the poll.

(RFE/RL's Iraqi Service contributed to this report.)

[For more on events in Iraq, see RFE/RL's dedicated webpage.]

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