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February 22, 2005
Jaafari In, Chalabi Out

The AP reports that Ahmed Chalabi has withdrawn his name from the Iraqi Prime Minister contest and endorsed Ibrahim Jaafari as the new leader of a free Iraq. Chalabi, whose candidacy had always been considered a long shot, took three days of convincing before agreeing to back the candidate of the top vote-getting slate in the National Assembly elections last month:

Pressure from within the ranks of the United Iraqi Alliance, which won Iraq's landmark Jan. 30 election, forced the withdrawal of Chalabi, a one-time Pentagon favorite, said Hussein al-Moussawi from the Shiite Political Council, an umbrella group for 38 Shiite parties.

"They wanted him to withdraw. They didn't want to push the vote to a secret ballot," al-Moussawi said.

The 140 members were to put the decision between Chalabi and al-Jaafari to a secret ballot by Tuesday's end.

The decision came after three days of round-the-clock negotiations by senior members of the clergy-backed alliance, which emerged from the election with a 140-seat majority in the 275-member National Assembly, or parliament.

Jaafari still needs to get two-thirds support from the assembly, but that is widely expected as the Kurds have already arranged to take the mostly-ceremonial presidency in recognition of their second-place finish. Ayad Allawi, currently the interim PM but with only 40 seats in the 275-member body, will see an end to his term at the helm of Iraq, although certainly he will receive due appreciation for his excellent work in bringing a unified Iraq through its first free elections.

The big question now is what to do with the Sunnis. Several deputy positions remain for appointments, and while Allawi will surely get one of the choice openings, the Sunnis should also land one in order to keep them integrated into the process. Current president Ghazi al-Yawer would be a good candidate; he's been supportive of democracy and will eventually be a figure who can reach out credibly to his constituency. Without some access to the higher levels of power, the Sunnis will resist whatever permanent constitution the Assembly creates, leaving the integration of the central provinces up in the air.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 22, 2005 8:44 AM

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