Friday, April 08, 2005

Saddam's Old Foes Become New Iraqi Leaders

Yahoo! News
Saddam's Old Foes Become New Iraqi Leaders

By TRACI CARL, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Cementing Iraq's first democratic government in 50 years, one of Saddam Hussein's most implacable enemies took his oath as president Thursday and quickly named another longtime foe of the ousted dictator to the powerful post of prime minister.

The new government's main task will be to draft a permanent constitution and lay the groundwork for elections in December, although some worry that the two months of political wrangling taken up in forming the leadership hasn't left enough time.

The swearing-in ceremony came just two days short of the second anniversary of Baghdad's fall to U.S.-led forces and underlined the growing power and cooperation of the Shiite Arab majority and Kurdish minority — groups that were long oppressed by Saddam's regime.

There were stumbles, though.

After his inaugural speech, interim President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, walked off the stage, and members of the National Assembly and onlookers began to disperse and television feeds were cut.

Talabani came back about 10 minutes later and had to shout to a dwindling crowd that the President's Council — Talabani and his two vice presidents — had, as expected, selected Shiite Arab leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari as interim prime minister.

Senior Kurdish official Barham Saleh blamed the misstep on miscommunication, saying lawmakers didn't realize the ceremony hadn't ended with Talabani's speech.

Some Shiite lawmakers felt snubbed.

"We hope that they forgot," said Abbas Hassan Mousa al-Bayati, a top member of al-Jafaari's Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance. "This happened because of bad management."

Al-Jaafari didn't seem upset, telling reporters afterward: "This day represents a democratic process and a step forward."

"I'm faced with a big responsibility, and I pray to God that everyone will work hand-in-hand and that their efforts will lead to progress and development," he added.

Some Iraqis have expressed concern about al-Jaafari's close ties to the Islamic government in Iran and his work for the conservative Islamic Dawa Party, which has called for the implementation of Islamic law. But lawmakers didn't express any reservations Thursday.

Al-Jaafari said women will play a bigger role in his government, and he promised to fight the violence of the insurgency.

"There are two kinds of terrorism: terrorism from inside Iraq — and these are criminals, some of them with ties to the former regime — and the other is the terrorism exported from abroad," he said.

Iraq's new leaders were longtime foes of Saddam, who watched a videotape of Talabani's election Wednesday but was not expected to be shown Thursday's ceremony.

Al-Jaafari spent more than two decades in exile helping to lead anti-Saddam opposition forces among Shiite Arabs, while Talabani was one of the most influential leaders in the resistance of ethnic Kurds to Saddam as well as Arab domination.

Shiite Arabs and Kurds have worked together in putting the government together, and Talabani — whose post is largely ceremonial — reached out Thursday to Sunni Arabs, who are believed to make up the backbone of the insurgency and were the dominant group under Saddam.

"It is time for our Sunni brothers to participate in the democratic march," the president said.

Lawmakers have appointed Sunni Arabs to several top posts in an effort to build a broad-based government, but prominent Sunni Arab groups have distanced themselves from the new administration.

Sunni Arabs have only 17 seats in parliament, largely because many boycotted the Jan. 30 elections or stayed home for fear of attacks at the polls. Shiites have 140 of the 275 seats in the National Assembly, while Kurds have the second largest bloc with 75 seats.

Al-Jaafari has a month to name his Cabinet, clearing the way for the new government to begin drafting a permanent constitution before an Aug. 15 deadline. If the constitution is approved in an October referendum, elections for a permanent government are to be held in December.

Parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani, a Sunni Arab, urged Iraq's new leaders to begin immediately. "Your people are looking at you and waiting," he said. "So, work!"

Al-Hassani added that outgoing interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who took over from a U.S.-appointed National Governing Council in June, turned in his resignation Thursday. But he said Allawi was asked to conduct the day-to-day work of the government until the Cabinet is named.

Meanwhile, Iraq purchased 60,000 metric tons of U.S. rice, the U.S. Agriculture Department said Thursday. Growers hope "that this is the first of many more export sales to this key market," said Lee Adams, chairman of the USA rice federation.

Iraq was once the No. 1 market for U.S. rice, buying 345,000 metric tons annually before the 1991 Gulf War.

In violence Thursday, armed men blew up Shiite Muslims' al-Khudir shrine in the Latifiya area, 35 miles south of Baghdad, Babil police spokesman Muthana Khalid said.

Insurgents fired rockets into Fallujah, the restive city in Anbar province, the U.S. military said. It said Marines returned fire but did not immediately know if the rockets caused any damage.

In the northern city of Mosul, a bomb attack on an Iraqi army patrol killed three soldiers and wounded 20, said Maj. Gen. Khalil Ahmed al-Obeidi, the Iraqi commander in Mosul. Seven assailants were captured, he said.

In Kirkuk, about 180 miles north of Baghdad, a projectile hit an oil tanker, causing an explosion that set several other trucks ablaze. Six drivers were seriously wounded, and another was missing, said Sarhat Qader, the police chief of the suburbs surrounding Kirkuk.


Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin, Qasim Abdul-Zahra, Omar Sinan and Mariam Fam contributed to this report.