Iraq's president appoints Shiite as prime minister
Updated: 2005-04-08 08:31
Shiite Muslim politician Ibrahim al-Jaafari on Thursday became Iraq's first
prime minister chosen through a democratic process.
Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani named Jaafari, 58, to the post after Talabani
was sworn in as the first non-Arab president of a predominantly Arab nation.
The presidency is largely a ceremonial
job; the prime minister wields more power. Al-Jaafari's principal responsibility
will be to oversee the drafting of a permanent constitution by Aug. 15 and to
prepare the country for fresh elections by the end of the year. Drafting the
constitution in a fashion that protects the interests of Iraq's often-feuding
ethnic groups - including the disaffected Sunni Muslim minority - while ensuring
national unity promises to be an immense challenge.
prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari (L) sits with vice president Ghazi al-Yawer
as Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani is sworn in as Iraq's president during a
meeting of the National Assembly in Baghdad.
Talabani and his two deputies took the oath of office in a ceremony that
began with a reading from the Quran, delivered by a cleric from a conservative
Shiite mosque in Baghdad.
In a speech after taking the oath, Talabani repeated the themes of national
unity that the National Assembly, elected two months ago, has sounded while
fighting behind closed doors to parcel out key posts and ministries among Iraq's
three major ethnic groups.
Sunnis, viewed as the
backbone of the insurgency, make up 20 percent of Iraq's population but hold
only 17 of the 275 National Assembly seats. The Kurds hold 75, though they too
account for 20 percent of Iraqis. Many Sunnis stayed home from the Jan. 30
elections out of protest or fears for their safety in violence-wracked regions.
Veteran Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani raises
his hands after being sworn in as Iraq's president during a meeting of the
National Assembly in Baghdad. Talabani became the first non-Arab president
of an Arab country. [AFP]
Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who was appointed last year by U.S.
occupation authorities, resigned Thursday, although he'll stay on for a week or
two in a caretaker role, until al-Jaafari appoints his Cabinet.
Al-Jaafari is a leader of the Dawa Party, an Islamist group banned by Saddam
that once claimed responsibility for an attempt to assassinate his eldest son,
Odai. Saddam's regime executed several of the party's leaders.
Today it's part of the United Iraqi Alliance, the bloc that rode the
blessings of Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani to a slight majority
in the assembly.
Al-Jaafari grew up in the southern
town of Karbala -in the shadow of the resting place of Shiite martyr Imam
Hussein - and attended medical school in Mosul. He joined the Dawa Party, which
at the time called for overthrowing Iraq's secular regime in favor of an Islamic
state, in high school and was an undercover operative in his college days. The
party engaged in tit-for-tat violence with Saddam during the 1970s, and
al-Jaafari fled the country for Iran in 1980, then England. When he left Iraq,
he took the name al-Jaafari for fear that his family name, al Eshaiker, would
make it possible for Saddam's security forces to follow him.
Outgoing Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi(L)
greets incoming prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari(R) at a National Assembly
meeting in Baghdad April 7, 2005. Jaafari announced his own nomination
shortly after Iraq's new president, Kurdish former guerrilla leader Jalal
Talabani, was sworn into office in parliament, along with two deputies.
Al-Jaafari's public comments more recently have called for national unity,
and he's avoided any direct comment on his earlier advocacy of an Islamic state.
His appointment has, nonetheless, raised fears among some Sunnis and Kurds that
he may still wish to move Iraq in that direction.
Also on Thursday, shortly after dawn, armed men used homemade bombs to
destroy a Shiite shrine in Latifiyah, south of Baghdad, said Jassim Ghanem, a
spokesman for the police in Babil province.
In a statement posted on the Web, the group al-Qaida in Iraq claimed
responsibility for the reported kidnapping of a senior Interior Ministry
official who's active in anti-insurgent campaigns. The kidnapping couldn't be