Before U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi returned here a month ago on a mission to form a transitional administration that will take power on June 30, he called for Iraqi politicians to "stay out of the interim government," and sought independent technocrats who would act as caretakers until elections are held next year.
But the results of Brahimi's work thus far have been the opposite of what he wanted, according to U.N. and Iraqi officials. The leadership now taking shape will be heavy with politicians, prompting concern among diplomats and political analysts here that it could lack legitimacy in the eyes of many ordinary Iraqis. A government without broad support could falter in the tumultuous months after the handover, as an independent Iraq struggles to deal with a violent insurgency, religious and ethnic tensions, a stagnant economy and a host of other problems.
"The stakes are enormous," said a senior U.S. official in Baghdad, who spoke on condition he not be identified by name. "We have to get this one right."
On Friday, Brahimi endorsed Shiite politician Ayad Allawi, a member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council, to be prime minister. Then he spent the weekend considering several other politicians and council members for the presidency, two vice presidential jobs and 26 cabinet minister posts.
The choice of president has been particularly contentious. Brahimi and the U.S. administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, wanted Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister, to get the job. But a large majority of council members continued to back Ghazi Yawar, a U.S.-educated tribal sheik who holds the council's rotating presidency. Although a council session was scheduled for Monday to debate the issue, council officials said they had received indications from Brahimi and Bremer that they would drop their insistence on Pachachi.
The political maneuvering came as violence continued to smolder in southern Iraq. U.S. soldiers clashed with Shiite gunmen in Najaf for the second day in a row, shaking a tentative cease-fire with militiamen loyal to radical cleric Moqtada Sadr. Fighting also erupted Sunday night in the neighboring city of Kufa. A CNN reporter embedded with the U.S. troops in Kufa said a "major firefight" occurred when soldiers tried to secure a police station. CNN quoted soldiers as saying it was the heaviest fighting in the area in the past six weeks.
A roadside bomb exploded beside a U.S. Army vehicle south of Baghdad on Sunday, killing one 1st Armored Division soldier and wounding two, the Reuters news agency reported.
In Baghdad, gunmen attacked a convoy of sport-utility vehicles carrying foreigners, killing at least two Iraqis, according to witnesses interviewed by news services. The foreign occupants, who were armed, commandeered a passing car and escaped, the witnesses said.
Brahimi, who was sent to Iraq at the behest of the White House, has been frustrated by both the council's intransigence and pressure from the U.S. occupation authority to accept its favored candidates, according to people involved in the process.
Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, became committed to the idea of a technocratic caretaker government after speaking to many Iraqis on a visit in April. Politicians, including members of the Governing Council, enjoy little public support. Most political leaders lived in exile until the fall of former president Saddam Hussein, fueling a perception that they are out of touch. Iraqis also remain inherently suspicious of parties because of the abuses of Hussein's once-powerful Baath Party, which dominated the political scene for more than three decades.
"The majority of Iraqis with whom we spoke told us that, under the circumstances, they favored the establishment of a new caretaker government comprised of honest and technically qualified persons," Brahimi told the U.N. Security Council last month.
But as soon as he arrived back in Iraq in early May, he ran into resistance from the council. "Any future government must enjoy wide popular support so it can run the nation's affairs at this crucial stage of its history," the council said in a May 8 statement. Such a government, the statement insisted, must have "political capability."
Several members bluntly demanded positions for themselves in the new administration.
U.N. officials initially said Brahimi would not be swayed by the council. "You don't need all the members to say 'Aye,' " a senior U.N. official said at the time. "If there are a few naysayers, you can still pull it off."
Brahimi eventually settled upon a man he reportedly believed was an ideal candidate to be prime minister: Hussain Shahristani, a Shiite Muslim nuclear scientist who spent more than a decade in the Abu Ghraib prison after refusing to work on Hussein's nuclear weapons project. Shahristani is not affiliated with any party and has spent the past year working on humanitarian aid projects. He also is close to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country's most powerful Shiite cleric, whose support is essential to the viability of an interim government.
But Shiite politicians on the council who wanted the prime minister's job for themselves refused to support Shahristani. They suggested to Brahimi that they would oppose the interim government if Shahristani were named prime minister, people familiar with the process said.
Over the course of a few days it became clear to Brahimi that he could not bypass the council, U.N. officials said. Making a clean break from the council would have risked a potentially divisive confrontation, an outcome that he and the U.S. government wanted to avoid, the officials said.
When Shahristani withdrew from consideration, Brahimi's list of candidates able to muster support on the council dwindled to Allawi and two other members, Adel Abdel-Mehdi of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and Ibrahim Jafari of the Dawa party.
There have been differing accounts of the role U.S. officials in Baghdad played in the process. Some people involved in the process said Bremer and White House envoy Robert D. Blackwill supported Shahristani until council members backed away. Others familiar with the negotiations said the U.S. government had been worried that Shahristani was not seasoned enough and not sympathetic enough to American policies, particularly the Bush administration's desire for U.S. forces to have unfettered power in the country after the handover.
With Shahristani out, Bremer and Blackwill urged Brahimi to back Allawi, whose party has long been supported by the CIA, officials involved in the process said. At the same time, Allawi was actively building support for his candidacy among other members of the council.
The process came to a head on Friday, when the council unanimously nominated Allawi to be prime minister. Bremer and Brahimi, who were aware of the council's meeting, subsequently endorsed him.
Emboldened by its success, the council has pushed to select much of the rest of the interim government. Members have demanded that Yawar receive the presidency instead of Pachachi. Yawar, a Sunni tribal leader, is a moderate, but he is regarded by members as more independent and less supportive of American policies. Yawar's tribe, the Shamar, has many Shiite members, and he has the support of most Shiite members on the council.
"Dr. Pachachi represents old Iraq while Sheik Ghazi represents the tribal and Arab values that are important to the people," a senior council official said.
The council's effort to impose its own candidates extended well beyond the presidency. Several members said they wanted the two vice presidential jobs to go to Jafari and Rowsch Schaways of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, who is a close associate of council member Massoud Barzani.
Council members also pushed for fellow members to assume three important cabinet posts: Abdel-Mehdi as finance minister, Sameer Shaker Sumaidaie as interior minister and Rajaa Habib Khuzai as health minister, Iraqi politicians said.