June 1, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A powerful Sunni Muslim tribal leader and critic of the U.S.-led occupation was named president of Iraq's incoming government Tuesday, after Iraqi leaders rejected the Americans' preferred candidate for the post.
After the selection of Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer to the largely ceremonial position, officials announced the entire interim government due to take power on June 30 - and the body moved quickly to begin its work.
The U.S.-picked Governing Council decided to dissolve immediately to make way rather than wait until June 30. The incoming prime minister, Iyad Allawi, said his government would soon negotiate a crucial agreement on the status of U.S.-led international forces that will remain in Iraq.
As word of al-Yawer's appointment was announced, a car bomb blew up outside the offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which is located just outside the green zone U.S. coalition headquarters in central Baghdad.
At least three people were killed and 20 were injured, the military said. Also, a roadside bomb also exploded near a U.S. base in the northern town of Beiji, killing 11 Iraqis and wounding more than 22 people, including two U.S. soldiers.
Iraq still needs the presence of U.S.-led forces "to help in defeating the enemies of Iraq," Allawi said at a welcoming ceremony for the new government. "We will enter into alliances with our allies to accomplish that."
The U.S.-led occupation authority will continue to run Iraq until June 30, a senior Bush administration official said.
President Bush praised the new government, saying its selection "brings us one step closer to realizing the dream of millions of Iraqis: a fully sovereign nation with a representative government that protects their rights and serves their needs."
But he warned that the transfer of authority could be accompanied by an increase of violence. "There's still violent people who want to stop progress. Their strategy hasn't changed," he said.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the appointments, saying they "will help Iraq first of all to independence and full sovereignty after June 30, and then with the transition towards democracy."
The council and U.S. authorities had been deadlocked over the choice of president - delaying the expected announcement of the government by a day.
The deadlock showed a degree of tension between the Americans - who will retain enormous influence in Iraq after the handover and want a government the supports U.S. interests - and the Iraqis, who want to claim as much power as they can after a year of American rule.
At the welcoming ceremony, al-Yawer pledged to rise "above sectarianism and divisions," build a democratic state free of "totalitarianism and discrimination" and restore Iraq's "civilized face."
He said he would be "a loyal defender of your expectations in restoring the complete sovereignty of our country and establishing a democratic and federal system under which people enjoy a free citizenship in a state of laws and freedom."
A first key move for the new government will be the status of forces agreement. The Iraqis are seeking greater say over the operations of Iraqi security forces as well as the 135,000 American troops and other coalition forces on Iraqi soil.
The administration official said negotiations would begin "fairly soon."
In a nod to U.S. forces, al-Yawer said "we should remember our friends who fell during the battle to liberate Iraq."
The presidency is a symbolic position, but al-Yawer - as the highest Sunni in the government - will likely hold considerable influence.
The more powerful executive post of prime minister is held by Allawi, a U.S.-backed Shiite Muslim with military and CIA connections.
Allawi, whose appointment was announced Friday, was chosen because he was considered the best candidate to cope with the deteriorating security situation.
The announcement of al-Yawer came after Adnan Pachachi, an elder statesman preferred by the United States, turned down the presidency in the face of opposition from other members of the Governing Council to his selection.
Council members had angrily accused the American governor of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, of trying to install Pachachi, a former foreign minister, over their opposition.
Sources had said the Americans warned that if the members went ahead and voted for al-Yawer, the United States might not recognize the choice.
Al-Yawer, who routinely wears traditional Arab robes and head gear, was sharply critical of the American occupation in a recent television interview, blaming U.S. ineptness for the deterioration in law and order. Al-Yawer also has denounced violence against American and other coalition forces.
Most of the 22-member Governing Council backed al-Yawer, the current Governing Council president. A graduate of the Petroleum and Minerals University in Saudi Arabia and of Georgetown University, he is a prominent member of the Shammar tribe, one of the largest in the Gulf region that includes Shiite clans. He enjoys the support of Shiite and Kurdish council members.
Insisting on Pachachi would have risked a major breach with the Americans' Iraqi allies at a sensitive period as Washington prepares to hand control of a still-unstable, war-ravaged country to an untested leadership.
Coalition spokesman Dan Senor insisted the Americans had not shown a preference for Pachachi, a claim that many council members dismissed as untrue.
Pachachi, 81, told reporters he turned down the presidency for "personal reasons." He said the president "must have the support of all levels of the Iraqi people and all quarters."
The dispute over the presidency delayed for a day for the announcement of the new government by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who has been mediating negotiations for weeks.
At the welcoming ceremony, Brahimi acknowledged that negotiations to establish the new government had been "very precise and difficult."
Brahimi said the two vice presidencies went to Ibrahim al-Jaafari, of the Shiite Muslim Dawa party, and Rowsch Shaways, speaker of parliament in the Kurdish autonomous region in Irbil.
In the newly announced Cabinet, Kurd Hoshyar Zebari retained his post as foreign minister, and Kurdish official Barham Saleh, who is close to the Americans, was named deputy prime minister for national security affairs.
Adel Abdel-Mahdi, an official of a powerful Shiite political party, was named finance minister; Hazem Shalan al-Khuzaei became defense minister; and Thamir Ghadbhan took over as oil minister.
With more than 800 U.S. military dead since the Iraq war began in March 2003, Washington is eager to see a government that can tackle the security crisis, including a year-old Sunni revolt in Baghdad and areas north and west of the capital and a Shiite uprising to the south.