FILE PHOTO OF IRAQI FORMER NUCLEAR SCIENTIST HUSSAIN AL-SHAHRISTANI
Romeo Ranoco  /  Reuters file
Hussain al-Shahristani
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 5/26/2004 8:01:48 PM ET 2004-05-27T00:01:48

A Shiite Muslim nuclear scientist tabbed as the top candidate for prime minister of an Iraqi government that is due to take power June 30 does not want the job, the U.N. envoy said Wednesday.

The scientist, Hussain al-Shahristani, who was imprisoned for years under former President Saddam Hussein, was among several people being considered for the post, Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, president of the Iraqi Governing Council, confirmed Wednesday.

U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who was in Baghdad helping Iraqis agree on an interim government that will take over June 30, said he met al-Shahristani and thought highly of him, Ahmed Fawzi, Brahimi’s spokesman, said in a statement.

“Mr. Shahristani, however, has himself clarified that he would prefer to serve his country in other ways,” the statement said, without elaborating.

The Washington Post published an article Wednesday identifying al-Shahristani as “the candidate to beat.” But diplomatic sources told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that no decision had been made.

Saddam opponent from exile
Al-Shahristani was chief of the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission until he was arrested in 1979, a move that he says was precipitated by his refusal to help Saddam build a nuclear weapon. His arrest occurred at a time when the regime was rounding up Shiites because of suspected links to Iran.

He escaped in 1991 after the U.S. military bombed the Abu Ghraib prison during the first Gulf War, enabling him to head for Jordan. He was among those who claimed before the U.S. invasion that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

Brahimi is due to announce by Monday the makeup of the caretaker government, a key step in U.S. plans to hand over authority to the Iraqis. A U.N. official, however, said the final list might be delayed until later next week.

Brahimi is helping work out who will serve as president and prime minister, as well as fill two vice presidencies and 26 Cabinet posts, while trying to strike a balance among Iraq’s Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions. The balance is vital to ensuring the stability of an administration that will run Iraq until elections due by Jan. 31.

Brahimi; L. Paul Bremer, the chief U.S. administrator in Iraq; and Robert Blackwill, the White House’s envoy, met Tuesday with members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to go through names.

Other names that have been touted as possible prime ministers include those of Mehdi Hafedh, the current planning minister, and Adel Abdel-Mahdi, a leading figure in Iraq’s largest Shiite party.

The post of prime minister, which will hold executive powers, appears to have been earmarked for a member of Iraq’s Shiite majority, while a Sunni will likely hold the presidency, which will be the symbolic head of state.

The name most often mentioned for the president’s post is that of Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister from pre-Saddam governments and a respected Sunni member of the Governing Council.

‘Technocrats’ sought for new government
Brahimi has refused to comment on names, but he has said he wants to bring “technocrats” into the new government, an attempt to introduce new blood and distance the administration from the traditional politicians in the Iraqi Governing Council.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed hope that Brahimi would meet the Monday target for an interim government.

“We had indicated that our target date was the end of May, and obviously we are still working toward that date,” Annan told reporters Tuesday before briefing Security Council members on Brahimi’s progress.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Tuesday that Brahimi was “crunching names” and “going flat out trying to reach consensus” on the leadership.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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