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Iraq council delays choosing new leader
Updated: 2004-06-01 01:00

A Governing Council meeting to select a new Iraqi president was postponed for a day Monday, meaning the United Nations and coalition authorities will not meet the self-imposed end of the month deadline to announce a new government.

Three officials, including council member Mahmoud Othman, reported the postponement without giving a reason. However, the delay in choosing a president suggests differences remain between the Iraqi council and the U.S.-run coalition over who should get the job of president.

Iraqi Governing Council chief Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer walks inside the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, in this Tuesday, May 18, 2004 file photo. al-Yawer, a Sunni from the northern city of Mosul, is a front-runner for the ceremonial job of interim president, anonymous officials reported Saturday, May 29, 2004. [Reuters]

Ahmad Fawzi, spokesman for U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, warned against assuming that the delay meant the process was in jeopardy. "It is a process that is evolving hour by hour. It is a very delicate process and a delicate balance," he said.

A majority of the Iraqi council favors the current head, civil engineer Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, while the Americans back an 81-year-old former foreign minister, Adnan Pachachi, 81. Both men are Sunni Muslim Arabs.

Council member Sondul Chapouka, an ethnic Turk from the northern city of Kirkuk, told Associated Press Television News that Iraq's U.S. governor L. Paul Bremer informed the council that other candidates were being considered for the president's job.

She complained that she and other council members were being sidelined, with the consultations involving only the coalition, Brahimi and prominent council members.

"It would have been better if the entire council was part of those meetings," Chapouka said. "We also are Iraqis and should take part in making decisions that are important to our nation."

Brahimi had hoped to complete the selection of the 26-member Cabinet by Monday and sources close to the deliberations said many of the posts had been tentatively filled. The next Iraqi government will take power June 30 and serve until elections are held by Jan. 31.

In an interview published Monday in Time magazine, Brahimi complained that poor security and a lack of communication among Iraqis had make the selection process more difficult.

"It's a very complicated business," the former Algerian foreign minister was quoted as saying. "The security situation is just impossible."

"It's important that we make the right decision," Governing Council spokesman Hameed al-Kafaei told APTN in an interview. "It is not an easy task. We should not rush. There is no sacred date. It may be tomorrow or the day after."

Coalition spokesman Dan Senor denied the Americans were showing favoritism toward Pachachi. However, a member of the council, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that Bremer, and Brahimi were exerting "massive pressure" in support of Pachachi.

Bremer and President George W. Bush's special envoy, Robert Blackwill, attended part of a five-hour council meeting Sunday and urged the members not to vote on the presidency choice, apparently fearing that al-Yawer would win, council sources said.

The Americans warned that if the council went ahead and voted, the United States might not recognize the choice, the sources said on condition of anonymity. Bremer has the final say on all policy decisions in Iraq.

The coalition-backed Baghdad daily Al-Sabah reported Monday that al-Yawer had turned down a request by Bremer to take himself out of the running for the presidency. Al-Yawer insisted that the selection must be made by a vote in the council, the newspaper said. There was no independent confirmation of the report.

Raja Habib al-Khuzaai, a Shiite council member tipped to become health minister in the new Cabinet, told The Associated Press that Bremer also asked the council to dissolve itself when the new transitional government is announced. Under an interim constitution adopted in March, the council is scheduled to disband on June 30, the day the occupation formally ends.

Younadem Kana, an Assyrian Christian member of the Governing Council, told Al-Jazeera television that "most of the voices" on the council wanted al-Yawer for president.

The tough stand by Bremer in support of Pachachi was unexpected because the Americans had signaled they were primarily interested in approving the choice for prime minister since the presidency will be a figurehead post.

Pachachi was instrumental in overseeing the drafting of an interim constitution that U.S. officials have hailed as among the most progressive and democratic in the Arab world. The document was adopted despite reservations by Shiite council members and over the objections by the country's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani.

Pachachi, who fled to the United Arab Emirates after Saddam's Baath Party seized power in 1968, is well-connected within the United States and the United Nations.

During a recent television interview, al-Yawer, who routinely wears traditional Arab robes and head gear, was sharply critical of the American occupation, blaming U.S. ineptness for the deteriorating law and order.

"We blame the United States 100 percent for the security in Iraq," said al-Yawer, who belongs to one of the largest tribes in the region and has the support of Shiite and Kurdish council members. "They occupied the country, disbanded the security agencies and for 10 months left Iraq's borders open for anyone to come in without a visa or even a passport."

Al-Yawer, who 45, also has denounced violence against American and other coalition forces.

On the other hand, Pachachi, who favors Western attire, has said foreign troops must remain in Iraq until the violence is quelled and the army and police are fully prepared to protect the nation.

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