Iraq Shi'ite bloc to demand prime ministership

Reuters

Sat Feb 5, 2005 01:06 PM GMT

By Mariam Karouny

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Shi'ite alliance expected to win a commanding victory in Iraq's election will insist one of its members is appointed the country's next prime minister, according to a senior official in the alliance.

"Shi'ites want the prime ministership, we are insisting on it and will not give it up," Deputy Foreign Minister Hamed al-Bayati told Reuters on Saturday. Bayati is a senior official in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).

SCIRI is a key player in the United Iraqi Alliance, a group of mainly Islamist parties that won strong support from Iraq's 60 percent Shi'ite majority in last Sunday's elections. If the alliance demands the prime ministership, it will be a blow to Prime Minister Iyad Allawi who had hoped to be picked again as a compromise candidate.

"The United Iraqi Alliance list has some candidates. The names are not finally agreed on yet because they are still discussing the qualifications and conditions of the prime minister," Bayati said.

Among those under consideration are Deputy President Ibrahim Jaafari, leader of the Dawa party which is part of the alliance, as well as SCIRI official Adel Abdul Mahdi, who is finance minister, and Ahmad Chalabi.

Sources in the Alliance say Jaafari and Mahdi have a stronger chance of being named their prime ministerial candidate than Chalabi, who has fallen out of favour with Washington and has been involved in public rows with some Iraqi officials.

On Thursday, the main Kurdish bloc, expected to come second or third in the election, said it would demand that its candidate Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, should be either president or prime minister.

Bayati said the name of the president must be agreed between the three main ethnic and religious groups -- Shi'ites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs. If the Kurds got the presidency, a Sunni Arab could be named head of the new National Assembly, he said.

"The name of the president has to be agreed on between Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds, but if the Kurds want this post they have to please the Sunnis and agree with them on that," he said.

The elections will determine the composition of a 275- member National Assembly that must in turn agree on a president and two vice presidents. These officials must then agree on a prime minister and appoint a cabinet.

Bayati said talks were already being held to discuss ministerial posts in the new government.