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Talabani chosen as Iraqi interim president
Updated: 2005-04-06 16:00

The Iraqi parliament chose Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as the country's new interim president Wednesday, reaching out to a long-repressed minority and bringing the country closer to its first democratically elected government in 50 years.

Ousted members of the former regime — including toppled leader Saddam Hussein — were shown the announcement on televisions in their prison cells, Iraqi officials said.

Jalal Talabani speaks to a reporter during an interview held in his office in the Kurdish city of Arbil in this February 13, 2005 file photo. Veteran Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani will be named Iraq's new president at a parliament meeting on April 6, 2005, senior government sources said. They said the two vice presidents would be Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shi'ite politician who is currently finance minister, and outgoing President Ghazi Yawar, a Sunni Arab. REUTERS/Namir Noor-Eldeen/Files
Jalal Talabani speaks to a reporter during an interview held in his office in the Kurdish city of Arbil in this February 13, 2005 file photo. [Reuters]

Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, and interim President Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni Arab, were chosen as Talabani's two vice presidents. After weeks of negotiations, the three candidates received 227 votes. Thirty ballots were left blank.

The announcement drew applause, and many lawmakers crowded around Talabani to congratulate him.

"This is the new Iraq, where no sect or minority controls the whole country," parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani said. "It is an Iraq where all the people are unified."

Talabani said he would work to improve security in his troubled nation, and he called on neighboring countries to help in the fight by preventing foreign insurgents from crossing into Iraq.

"Our people are patient," he said. "But there's a limit to their patience."

Before the session began, Hussain al-Shahristani of the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance said the choice of Talabani reflected efforts to represent the nation's diverse ethnic and religious groups in the new leadership.

"We agreed on Talabani because of his qualities and patriotic history," he said, adding that Talabani would be sworn in Thursday.

The Kurdish-led coalition in parliament won 75 of the 275 seats in the Jan. 30 elections. Kurds make up 20 percent of the country's 26 million people; Shiites make up 60 percent and the Sunni Arabs are roughly 15 to 20 percent.

Human Rights Minister Bakhtiyar Amin told The Associated Press that lawmakers had asked that Saddam and other jailed members of his former government be shown the process. "There will be televisions there, and they will be seeing it today," he said.

Saddam, captured in December 2003, has been in custody with several of his top aides at a U.S.-guarded detention facility. U.S. military officials declined to comment.

"This is a very important session because this is the first time in Iraq's history that the president and his deputies are elected in a legitimate and democratic way by the Iraqi people," interim Vice President Rowsch Nouri Shaways said. "That's why the Iraqi government thought it would be beneficial that the former dictator see this unique process."

The interim National Assembly must write a permanent constitution by Aug. 15. The constitution, along with elections for a permanent government scheduled for December, are central parts of U.S. plans for an eventual pullout of American troops.

For now, the fighting goes on. The U.S. military said in a statement Wednesday that a Task Force Baghdad soldier was killed a day earlier when his patrol was hit by a bomb and attacked by insurgent gunmen. Four other U.S. service members were killed Monday and Tuesday in an upsurge in violence, the military said.

In videos posted Tuesday on militant Web sites, a man in his 20s identified as Iraqi soldier Jassim Mohammed Hussein Mahdi was beheaded for working with the U.S.-allied government while another man, Hussein Taha Qassim, identified as a police informer, was shot.

The authenticity of the tapes, said to have been posted on Web sites by the militant groups al-Qaida in Iraq and Ansar al-Sunnah Army, could not immediately be verified. Al-Qaida in Iraq has claimed responsibility for beheading numerous Western hostages and members of the Iraqi security forces. Ansar al-Sunnah has claimed to have kidnapped and killed several foreigners.

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