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Allawi Affirms Bid For Top Post in Iraq

Kurdish Politician Sets Demands of Pivotal Group

By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2005; Page A14

BAGHDAD, Feb. 23 -- Ayad Allawi, Iraq's interim prime minister, announced Wednesday that he would seek to lead the country's next government, and a Kurdish politician said Kurds would demand "commitments" about civil liberties, federalism and the role of religion in government before supporting any candidate for the post.

Both declarations followed the nomination of Ibrahim Jafari Tuesday by the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite coalition that will hold a majority in Iraq's new parliament. The comments indicated that the selection of Jafari, a Shiite rooted in political Islam, did not mark the end of the hotly contested and intricately negotiated political maneuvering that has followed Iraq's Jan. 30 elections.

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Under the country's interim constitution, the newly elected 275-seat National Assembly will choose a president and two deputy presidents who will name a prime minister. But the occupants of those posts -- as well as their deputies and other cabinet members -- likely will be chosen beforehand in backroom dealings among the major political parties.

"I can imagine they will be exhaustive and exhausting negotiations," the Kurdish politician, interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, said of talks set to begin as early as Thursday between Kurdish parties and the Shiite coalition over Jafari's candidacy. "We will be drinking gallons of tea in smoke-filled rooms."

A spokesman for Allawi, a secular Shiite, had said Monday that he would be a candidate for prime minister, the position he has held for eight months in the outgoing interim government. On Wednesday, Allawi made it official, announcing the formation of a coalition to back his bid for the job. He declined to specify his partners in the group, saying only that his party would work with smaller ones.

Asked if he was concerned about the religious orientation of Jafari, who is one of the interim government's two vice presidents, Allawi replied that Jafari was "an honorable man . . . and a good brother." But, Allawi said, "we are liberal powers, and we believe in liberal Iraq and not Iraq governed by political Islamists."

Allawi's candidacy raised speculation that his party, which won 40 seats in the assembly, and the Kurdish parties, which won 75, would join forces to block Jafari. To succeed, they would have to gain the support of some secular parties that are part of the United Iraqi Alliance, which won 140 seats. To become prime minister, a nominee needs the approval of two-thirds of the assembly.

In an interview in his government office inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, Salih said that although the Kurds had "no intention of fragmenting any group . . . you could see shifting alliances in this parliament. . . . I believe everything is possible."

Kurds, who make up about 23 percent of Iraq's population and have enjoyed a high degree of autonomy in northern Iraq for more than a decade, want "clear policy commitments" on several issues from any prime ministerial candidate, not just Jafari, Salih said. Those issues include "a democratic, federal Iraq based on the separation of powers and a proper place for religion in public life," he added.

There is "a clear provision in the interim law" regarding religion stating that "Iraq will respect Islamic values and that no laws will violate the tenets of Islam, nor the Bill of Rights," Salih said. This double-barreled test, he added, "is very important to us."

Beyond these constitutional issues, Salih said he expected the Kurdish-Shiite talks to cover cabinet posts. The Kurds want "serious" portfolios proportional to their representation in the National Assembly, Salih said. He did not specify which posts those might be.

A U.S. official observing the political horse-trading said: "The Kurds are going to play hardball, and they are going to extract much of what they want. They are the pivotal voting bloc" in the new assembly.

Meanwhile, a group of Sunni Muslim tribal leaders who boycotted the January elections called for the creation of a national unity government. At a news conference, some said they supported Allawi for prime minister because he was secular and had shown himself to be a strong leader in the face of the violent insurgency plaguing the country.

"Although there are many candidates that are effective, we think Allawi is good in this post," said Ahmed Awwadi, a member of the Independent Democratic Iraq Gathering. "He has led Iraq in a very critical and dangerous period, and he was able to control the security file -- although not completely, but at least he tried his best."

In the northern city of Mosul, the insurgency inflicted more injuries with a bomb on a downtown street that wounded 11 civilians. And in Haqlaniyah, north of Baghdad, Iraqi and U.S. forces engaged insurgents throughout the day, with U.S. aircraft providing air support, including the dropping of two 500-pound bombs on insurgent positions, according to U.S. and Iraqi military officials.

Special correspondents Bassam Sebti, Naseer Nouri and Omar Fekeiki in Baghdad and Dlovan Brwari in Mosul contributed to this report.

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