IMAGE: Ibrahim al-Jaafari
Pool via Getty Images
Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari won nomination by Shiite lawmakers Sunday to be prime minister in the country's next government.
updated 2/12/2006 6:28:44 PM ET 2006-02-12T23:28:44

Shiite lawmakers chose incumbent Ibrahim al-Jaafari to be Iraq’s new prime minister Sunday even though his current government has been criticized for not dealing effectively with the Sunni-led insurgency or rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Kurdish leaders expressed concern over the Shiite choice, which marks a key step in forming a government nearly two months after national elections.

Al-Jaafari is assured the post because Shiites won the most parliament seats in the Dec. 15 national elections. He won 64 votes in a caucus of Shiite legislators, one more than Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, officials said. There were two abstentions.

After parliament convenes within two weeks, members must choose the largely ceremonial position of president, who then will designate the alliance’s choice as the new prime minister.

Al-Jaafari’s designation paves the way for the Shiite alliance to begin talks in earnest with parties representing Sunni Arabs, Kurds, secularists and others to try to form a broad-based government, which the United States hopes can calm the insurgency so American and other foreign troops can begin withdrawing.

‘Victory of the alliance’
“Today’s victory is not that this one won or that one won, it’s the victory of the alliance with its unity and cool head,” al-Jaafari said after the vote.

Attacks continued Sunday, with at least six people killed and 20 wounded in a spate of blasts and shootings in Baghdad and to the north. Insurgents also fired a mortar into the heavily guarded Green Zone in central Baghdad, but there were no casualties.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the head of the influential Kurdish Coalition, took little time in making demands about the makeup of the next government.

Talabani told reporters the Kurds would not support al-Jaafari and his Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, if former premier Ayad Allawi’s secularist Iraqi National List was not included in the Cabinet.

“I stressed to the American ambassador on the necessity of forming a national unity government in which no one will be excluded, especially (Allawi’s) Iraqi List,” Talabani said after meeting U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. “The Kurdish Coalition will not take part in the coming government unless the Iraqi List takes part in it.”

New role for Allawi?
Several senior Shiite politicians have said they opposed Allawi — a secularist who has good relations with the U.S. government — taking a prominent role in the next government.

Allawi has been touted as a possible replacement for Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, a Shiite bloc member accused by Sunni Arabs of directing Shiite-led security forces to kill and kidnap members of the Sunni Arab community.

Jabr denies the claims. Shiite leaders, long suppressed by Saddam Hussein’s security forces, have vowed to take control of the interior and defense ministries, which run the police and military, respectively.

Al-Jaafari, a physician and member of the Islamic Dawa Party, spent years in exile in Iran and Britain before returning to his homeland after the U.S.-led coalition ousted Saddam in 2003.

His government, which took office in April, had been widely criticized for failing to improve the country’s crumbling infrastructure or deal effectively with the Sunni-led insurgency. Al-Jaafari’s supporters had complained of infighting within the Shiite alliance that dominated the outgoing government.

Door open for dialogue with Sunnis
After winning the vote Sunday, al-Jaafari said the Shiite coalition will hold talks with others “based on the grand interests of Iraq” and the new constitution — which many Sunni Arabs opposed.

“The main basis for dialogue will primarily be the constitution, respect for the constitution and its contents after the people ratified and adopted it,” he said.

Shiites, like Kurds, want to maintain provisions in the constitution that support federalism. But Sunni Arabs oppose the idea and want such laws amended, believing federalism will see Kurds and Shiites prosper from control of northern and southern oil-rich regions of Iraq, leaving Sunnis with the less valuable central region.

Kurdish reservations
Veteran Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said Kurds have reservations about al-Jaafari because he allegedly excluded them from decision-making, and his government did not take steps concerning the status of the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk.

Under Saddam, thousands of Kurds were deported from Kirkuk and replaced by Arabs. Kurds now want Kirkuk as part of their Kurdistan region.

“We would have preferred a change of faces so as not to see a repeat of some of the problems,” Othman said. “I expect we will have some problems again.”

Members of the Kurdish Coalition will meet with the Shiite alliance later Sunday, he said.

Drive-by gunmen killed Education Ministry official Karim Selman al-Zaidi, a truck driver, a gas seller and a former Iraqi army officer in separate shootings in Baghdad and north of the capital. A suicide bomber killed a woman and a policeman in Baghdad.

Police also found the bodies of at least five men who had been bound, repeatedly shot and dumped in different parts of Baghdad.

Investigation into assault
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, meanwhile, vowed a full investigation after British and Middle East TV stations aired a video purportedly showing British troops using batons and their fists to beat a group of young Iraqis in 2004.

The tape was obtained by the News of the World tabloid newspaper from a whistleblower it did not identify.

“We take seriously any allegations of mistreatment and those will be investigated very fully indeed,” Blair said in South Africa.

Britain currently has 8,000 troops in Iraq, mostly in Basra. Flight Lt. Chris Thomas, a British spokesman in the southern city, said the allegations involve only a small number of British troops in Iraq, and he expressed hope the claims would not affect relations between coalition soldiers and Iraqis.

Those ties have come under strain recently, with some Iraqi officials complaining about British detentions of local policemen linked to numerous kidnappings and killings, as well as British security control over Basra International Airport.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, said a 53-year-old Iraqi prisoner died Saturday after being assaulted by several detainees in western Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison. A military criminal investigation was underway.

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