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U.S., U.N. officials at odds with council over Iraqi president

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A disagreement between Iraqi politicians and occupation authorities delayed the naming of an interim government to lead the country until elections next year, Iraqi and American officials said Sunday.

The dispute is over who should be the ceremonial president of Iraq after June 30, when the U.S.-led coalition hands over limited sovereignty to Iraqis. The coalition and United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi are said to heavily favor Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister who supports keeping troops in Iraq until security improves.

Most members of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council, however, back Ghazi Ajil al-Yawer, the current council chief who has criticized the American-led occupation.

Both men are Sunni Arab Muslims. A final decision is expected Monday or Tuesday. A ceremony to officially introduce the new government is scheduled for this week.

Two council members, speaking on condition of anonymity, said talks with L. Paul Bremer, the American administrator for Iraq, became heated on Sunday. The members said Bremer even threatened not to recognize their decision if the council backed al-Yawer. As the top occupation authority, Bremer holds veto power over council actions.

Dan Senor, a senior coalition spokesman, told reporters in Baghdad that Bremer was not exerting pressure on the Governing Council. Senor said the final decision is up to the members and Brahimi, who led the appointment process.

Senor said the coalition has not been "leaning heavily on anyone" in picking the new leadership.

"We don't have a list of candidates," he said. "We don't have a preferred candidate."

But council members and others privy to the talks said Bremer is decidedly behind Pachachi, an 81-year-old who fled to the United Arab Emirates after the Baath Party came to power. The council, at Bremer's urging, already named Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite Muslim with connections to the CIA, to the more important post of prime minister.

The members said the presidency, which comes with little actual authority, should go to al-Yawer, whose traditional dress and tribal connections are familiar to Iraqis.

"Al-Yawer is immensely capable and, though Sunni, he heads a tribe that is largely Shiite," said one council member, referring to the importance of courting Iraq's majority religious sect. "Pachachi is old and he belongs to the old guard. Iraqis don't trust him as much as they would al-Yawer."

A poll conducted last month by the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies, an independent think tank in Baghdad, showed mixed support for both men. In a survey question that asked Iraqis their level of support for a number of prominent political figures, respondents gave Pachachi 41 percent approval ratings, compared to al-Yawer's 33 percent.

The poll was conducted in seven Iraqi provinces in late April and has a margin of error of less than 3 percentage points.

In general, Iraqis have exhibited little support for any politician appointed by occupation authorities. The United Nations was brought in as a neutral third party in shaping the next government, but Brahimi's work has been undermined by U.S. interference and council members' efforts to remain in power despite their unpopularity with ordinary Iraqis, council members and political analysts have said.

Many council members will remain in key roles after June 30, heading the health, finance, defense and interior ministries among others. Brahimi earlier said he had hoped to eradicate the American-picked politicians and replace them with Iraqi technocrats and intellectuals with no ties to the occupation.

"Brahimi was pushed into a deadly corner," said Sadoun al Dulame, director of the polling center who is close to the parties involved in the appointment process. "He had very deep discussions with many Iraqi factions and personalities. Then, just as he was set to make his final decision, the coalition snatched it from his hands and ran with it."

In other developments, two people were killed and at least five Iraqis were wounded Sunday when gunmen opened fire on a convoy of sport utility vehicles in Baghdad. Three survivors of the attack on the vehicles, of the kind commonly used by Western security contractors, may have been kidnapped. The U.S. military had no details on the incident.

Clashes continued in southern Iraq between Shiite militiamen and U.S. troops three days after the announcement of a peace agreement. Fighters loyal to renegade cleric Muqtada al-Sadr traded gunfire with American soldiers in the twin holy cities of Najaf and Kufa, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq. Mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades also were used in the clashes, he said.

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Adnan Pachachi

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ

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