Officials of the United States, the United Nations and the Iraqi Governing Council appear to have settled on Ayad Allawi, a leader of one of the major Iraqi exile organizations, as Iraq's interim prime minister.
Allawi heads the Iraqi National Accord, which enjoyed support from both the CIA and the State Department in efforts through the 1990s to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The INA is a longtime rival of the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group that was once favored by the Pentagon. The INC is headed by Ahmad Chalabi, who it happens is a relative of Allawi's.
A senior Bush administration official in Baghdad, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations, said Allawi "is going to be the prime minister in the interim government."
The U.S.-appointed Governing Council unanimously recommended Allawi for the job Friday.
The vote followed a private endorsement of Allawi by Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. representative here who is leading efforts to form an interim government in Iraq, and by L. Paul Bremer, the civilian U.S. administrator in Iraq, according to a U.N. official who requested anonymity because no formal announcement has been made yet. Indeed, White House spokesman Scott McClellan Friday described Allawi not as the choice for the post but as one of several names under consideration.
But Rajaa Habib Khuzai, another council member, also said both Bremer and Brahimi approved the choice of Allawi.
There was no endorsement reported Friday for the other top job in Iraq, the presidency.
Brahimi's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said that the envoy "welcomes and respects the choice of Mr. Allawi." U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said that the United Nations did not expect the Governing Council to make the announcement. "It's not how we expected it to happen, but the Iraqis seem to agree on this candidate . . . ," he said. "And if they do, Mr. Brahimi is ready to work with this candidate. If this is the Iraqi way, he's ready to go with it and work with it and try to complete the process by the end of the month," when the United States hands over limited authority to the new Iraqi government.
Council members have been working to assure that one of them -- rather than an outsider -- be put in charge of the new government.
Allawi's following includes secular Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Kurds. He is also the top security official on the current Governing Council, which members said strengthened his candidacy.
Allawi is a member of a prominent Shiite merchant family. Once a member of Hussein's Baath party, he left Baghdad for London and medical school in 1971. He declined Hussein's invitation to rejoin the party in 1979 and was reportedly placed on a "liquidation list" by the dictator.
In 1979, he began organizing an anti-Hussein network, which, in 1990, became the Iraqi National Accord.
As leader of the INA, he was embraced by Britain and the United States and in 1996, he tried to organize a coup deploying CIA-backed Iraqi generals. Hussein had apparently penetrated the plot and arrested and executed many of its operatives.
Allawi and Chalabi entered Baghdad soon after it fell to U.S. troops last year. He reportedly argued against the U.S. decision to disband the Iraqi army, a decision widely seen as a mistake in light of the violence that has permeated the country since.
Friday, with 20 of its 23 members present, the Governing Council unanimously endorsed Allawi. There were no other candidates.
Afterward, Bremer entered the room and congratulated Allawi, said Khuzai, the council member who is also a physician. She said that an hour later, Brahimi came in and also congratulated Allawi.
Earlier this week, Hussain Shahristani, a Shiite nuclear scientist who had become the top choice of the United States and the United Nations to become Iraq's prime minister, withdrew from consideration after objections from Allawi and other formerly exiled Shiite politicians, according to officials involved in the political transition.
The terms of the transition from full U.S. authority to some level of Iraqi control are to be considered as part of a resolution before the United Nations. Debate has not yet begun on the draft resolution offered by the United States and Britain, although other members of the Security Council have suggested that it needs to be revised.
The draft, as well as public statements by President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have left uncertainty about the definition of "sovereignty" as it is being interpreted by the United States, particularly with regard to issues of security.
Bush said Friday he assured visiting Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen that "full sovereignty" would be transferred to a new Iraqi interim government on June 30. In a joint appearance in the White House Rose Garden, Bush said Rasmussen had pressed him on the matter in an Oval Office meeting.
"I told the prime minister that our government and our coalition will transfer full sovereignty -- complete and full sovereignty -- to a Iraqi government that will be picked by Mr. Brahimi of the United Nations," Bush said. "He said, 'Do you mean full sovereignty?' I said, 'I mean full sovereignty.' "
Bush said the United States is working closely with other countries, including Russia, in the United Nations to obtain approval of a resolution that would endorse the transfer of power to the interim Iraqi government and the presence of a U.S.-led multinational force to maintain security in Iraq. "We're making progress on that resolution," he said.
Rasmussen said he had confirmed to Bush that Danish troops would stay in Iraq to "finish our job," but he stressed that the troop presence must be approved by the Iraqis. Denmark has contributed about 400 troops to the U.S.-led military force in Iraq.
"We need a transfer of full sovereignty to an Iraqi government," Rasmussen said. "From June 30, international military presence in Iraq will be provided at request from this new Iraqi government. Our troops will stay in Iraq as long as the Iraqi government decides."
Barbash reported from Washington. Staff writers Colum Lynch at the United Nations and William Branigin in Washington contributed to this story.