Allawi's coalition to vie for post of premier

Interim Iraqi leader forms alliance to rival dominant Islamic Shiites

February 24, 2005|By Liz Sly | Liz Sly,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi yesterday announced the creation of a coalition to challenge Shiite party leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari for the job of prime minister, deepening the intrigue building around the formation of Iraq's government.

Allawi declined to identify the members of the new National Democratic Coalition, which will include his Iraqi List grouping along with others in the 275-member National Assembly.

"We believe in a liberal Iraq and not an Iraq governed by political Islamists," he said after declaring that he was the new coalition's candidate for prime minister.

The challenge to al-Jaafari, who heads one of Iraq's oldest Islamist parties, the Islamic Dawa Party, came a day after al-Jaafari was nominated as a candidate by the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite coalition that won the largest share of the popular vote and has said it therefore expects to name the prime minister.

With just 40 seats in the assembly, or 14 percent, Allawi's chances of securing the two-thirds majority that would be required to pin down the premiership seem slim. But if he manages to woo a majority of legislators over to his side, he may be able to stall al-Jaafari's nomination.

To do that he would have to lure dozens of defectors from the United Iraqi Alliance, which holds 140 seats, or 51 percent of the assembly.

Allawi may have been encouraged by the bruising internal battle fought over the nomination within the Iraqi Alliance, which revealed deep fissures between secularists and Islamists among the Shiites. Al-Jaafari eventually was chosen after his main rival for the job, the disgraced former Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi, was persuaded to step down.

Allawi has secured the defection of at least one alliance member.

Sheik Fawaz al-Jarba, a Sunni tribal leader who was prominently paraded by the Shiite alliance before the election in an effort to woo Sunni voters, appeared at yesterday's news conference with Allawi and said he was joining Allawi's coalition.

Though the prime minister will need the approval of only a simple majority in the assembly, the three-member Presidency Council that will name the prime minister will need a two-thirds majority to be appointed. It is unlikely that the Shiite coalition would give its support to a president who did not support its candidate for prime minister.

Allawi, who was appointed to his current position by the departing U.S. administration in June, acknowledged that to secure the prime minister's job, he therefore would need the support of two-thirds of the legislators.

"A general consensus is needed," he said. "It is not a simple majority, it is two-thirds of the votes. This is an important issue that we have to put in front of our eyes."

He probably could win the support of the Kurds, who share Allawi's secularist outlook, and who have 75 seats. He also could count on the support of a group led by the interim President Ghazi al-Yawar, a Christian party and the Communists, for another eight votes, leaving him 58 votes short.

Allawi's aides think he can win that number from among the secularist and women legislators who might have supported Chalabi over al-Jaafari. Chalabi, a longtime rival of Allawi's, has said he will remain loyal to the Shiite alliance.

The Shiite coalition also can count on the support of a number of smaller Islamic parties, pushing its share of the vote to 150, alliance officials say.

But much will depend on promises by the various factions of lucrative jobs in the new government, and many smaller parties or independent legislators overlooked by their coalitions may be tempted to jump ship, officials from all the factions say.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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