U.S. officials and a U.N. envoy were unable to reach consensus with Iraqi leaders Saturday over the selection of an interim president, with many members of the country's Governing Council opposing the U.S. and U.N. choice, according to Iraqi politicians and international officials involved in the process.
The United States and the United Nations want the presidency to go to Adnan Pachachi, a Sunni Muslim who served as foreign minister in the 1960s, before ousted president Saddam Hussein's Baath Party came to power.
Pachachi, who had lived in exile, has been one of the White House's favorite Iraqi politicians because of his moderate, pro-Western outlook.
But a majority of the Governing Council opted to back Ghazi Yawar, a Sunni tribal sheik who holds the council's rotating presidency, Iraqi politicians said. Yawar, a U.S.-educated engineer, is a political moderate who also lived in exile, but he is regarded by council members as more independent and less supportive of U.S. policies.
In an attempt to resolve the impasse, Iraqi politicians met into Saturday night with the three men charged with shaping the interim government: U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer and White House envoy Robert D. Blackwill. Iraqi political sources said the meetings were expected to continue Sunday.
The council's demand to have Yawar become president illustrated the power the U.S.-appointed body is wielding in the process of selecting an interim government. Although Brahimi and Bremer wanted the council's role to be limited, largely because it has little public support, members have maneuvered over the past week to give themselves a decisive role in the selection of national leaders who will assume power on June 30, when the United States hands over limited authority.
The council, which is dominated by Iraqis who lived in exile during the Hussein era, scuttled Brahimi's preferred candidate for prime minister, a politically independent Shiite Muslim nuclear scientist, and insisted that the job be filled by a political leader.
Although Brahimi did not want a politician as prime minister, reasoning that an independent would be best suited to prepare the country for elections, he acceded to avoid a potentially embarrassing confrontation with the council, people involved in the process said.
On Friday, the council selected Ayad Allawi, a formerly exiled Shiite politician whose party was supported by the CIA, to become the country's interim prime minister. Faced with no other option, Brahimi endorsed Allawi, a U.N. official said.
The U.N. official said Allawi's backing from fellow council members was the result of his own politicking and the subsequent support of Bremer and Blackwill, who believed he would be supportive of U.S. policies.
The White House and the Governing Council had asked Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, to help form an interim government that would be regarded by Iraqis as more legitimate than the council. He had planned to choose several figures who were not linked to parties or the council. Iraqis surveyed in polls have overwhelmingly indicated that they want a government led by independent technocrats instead of politicians.
The council's effort to impose its own candidates extended well beyond the presidency. Several members said they wanted the two vice president positions to go to Ibrahim Jafari of the Shiite Dawa party and Rowsch Schaways of the Kurdish Democratic Party. Jafari is a council member and Schaways is a close associate of Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, another council member.
Council members also pushed for fellow members to assume three important cabinet posts: Adel Abdel-Mehdi of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq as finance minister, Sameer Shaker Sumaidaie as interior minister and Rajaa Habib Khuzai as health minister, Iraqi politicians said.
In exchange for relinquishing demands for the post of president or prime minister, Kurdish leaders have sought two of the four most powerful cabinet posts.
The Kurdish leaders and other council members support giving the job of defense minister to Hoshyar Zubari, the current foreign minister, and the post of foreign minister to Barham Salih, the prime minister of the Kurdish regional government.
It was not clear whether Brahimi, Bremer and Blackwill had agreed to the council's demands, which would give council members and their close allies all of the top positions in the interim government. "This is still being worked out," a U.N. official said. "Nothing has been concluded."
Staff writer Robin Wright in Washington contributed to this report.