Saturday, May 29, 2004

Iraqi doctor to lead interim government

Governing Council nominates Iyad Allawi as prime minister

By Hamza Hendawi
The Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The Iraqi Governing Council on Friday nominated one of its members - Iyad Allawi, a Shiite Muslim who was prominent in the exiled opposition against Saddam Hussein - to become prime minister in the new government taking power June 30, members said.

The White House said the nomination was only one of many recommendations being made to U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who has led the process for drawing up the new government and is expected to announce the final lineup by Monday.

The council is "one of many groups that have made some recommendations to Mr. Brahimi," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Brahimi's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said that the envoy "welcomes and respects the choice of Mr. Allawi." He did not say whether Brahimi backed the nomination.

"Mr. Brahimi respects this choice and very very soon, we will be discussing with the prime minister-designate the formation of the whole Cabinet," Fawzi said.

Brahimi joined Friday's council session after Allawi's nomination was announced, said Mustafa al-Marayati, an aide to council member Raja Habib al-Khuzaai.

"It is a done deal. Hameed al-Kafaei, the spokesman for the Governing Council, said. "He is a prime minister-designate."

The council also planned to nominate a president and two vice presidents on Friday. The government is also to include 26 Cabinet ministers.

The 25-seat body unanimously selected Allawi because he was seen as best positioned to deal with Iraq's deteriorating security situation, members said.

Allawi's "nomination has a great deal to do with security since it's ... our main problem," council member Mahmoud Othman told The Associated Press. Allawi "has been in charge of security matters in the council since its inception. He is the best available choice."

Council members also thought Allawi could best deal with security because his party, the Iraqi National Accord, is made up of former military officers who had defected from Saddam's regime, said Allawi's aide, Ibrahim al-Janabi.

His relative, Ali Allawi, is Iraqi defense minister.

During his years in exile organizing anti-Saddam opposition, Allawi had support from CIA and State Department officials who were wary of the Pentagon's favorite, Ahmad Chalabi.

The chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, was at Friday's council session and congratulated Allawi on his nomination, said al-Marayati.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell told journalists, "I am pleased that Mr. Allawi has that kind of support," but added that Washington has "no position on individual candidates.

Powell said he wants to hear from Brahimi "on this and other points."

U.S. spokesman Dan Senor in Baghdad said the nomination was part of attempts by Brahimi to guage Iraqis' opinions.

The council members "expressed their view earlier today on who they would like to see as the prime minister," Senor said. "A formal announcement will come presumably from Mr. Brahimi in the days ahead."

At the White House, McClellan described the nomination as "one idea of many ideas."

The council took a break after selecting Allawi and was joined by Brahimi as it reconvened to choose nominations for president and the two vice presidents. The president, a figurehead post, is expected to go to a Sunni Arab. The two vice presidents will likely be a Shiite and a Kurd.

Allawi, a Shiite neurologist and businessman involved in the opposition since the 1970s, has long been seen as a rival of Chalabi, though they worked together in coordinating between anti-Saddam exile groups.

While living in London in 1978, Allawi survived an assassination attempt believed to have been ordered by Saddam.

The Iraqi National Accord, which Allawi founded along with former military officers, advocated a coup against Saddam but an attempt in 1996 failed.

Nonetheless, Allawi continued to have strong support within the State Department, CIA and Britain's MI-6 intelligence service.

After Saddam's ouster, U.S. occupation officials gave Allawi as one of the 25 seats on the Governing Council. Over the past year, Allawi has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying in Washington to press his influence, more than any other council member.

Still, Chalabi had a much higher profile in Washington. He attended the State of the Union address as a guest in the box of first lady Laura Bush.

But Chalabi, the favorite of the architects of the Iraq invasion at the Pentagon, fell out of favor in recent months after his information about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction was discredited.

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Olga Arruza was pianist and educator