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Sunni leader named president of Iraq's interim government

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A powerful tribal chief and outspoken critic of the U.S.-led coalition became Iraq's new president Tuesday—picked over the objections of American officials hours before the Iraqi Governing Council dissolved itself.

The announcement that Sheik Ghazi Ajil al Yawer, a Sunni Muslim Arab who was a member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council, would assume the largely ceremonial role until elections next year came amid an outbreak of violence that left at least 14 Iraqis dead.

As United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi announced the new government at a ceremony inside the heavily guarded American "Green Zone," mortar rounds rained down nearby. Just before the announcement, a car bombing killed at least three Iraqis and injured more than 20 outside the offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, not far from the ceremony site.

A roadside bomb north of Baghdad killed 11 more Iraqis, including seven members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.

On a day intended to celebrate steps toward Iraqi independence, the violence illustrated the major obstacles that the new Iraqi government faces in restoring security before American administrators officially relinquish control of the country on June 30.

"This is your new government, which will exercise its duty in sovereignty," Brahimi told the audience. "Give them a chance, help them and judge them after looking at their programs."

Brahimi and L. Paul Bremer, the American administrator for Iraq, were said to favor another presidential candidate, Adnan Pachachi, an elderly former foreign minister who supports keeping U.S. troops in the country until security improves. But after two days of heated debate, a deal was struck to install al Yawer, whose tribal connections and traditional Arab dress are more familiar to Iraqis, said two Governing Council members.

At a news conference in his palatial residence, Pachachi said he declined Brahimi's offer of the presidency. He said media reports that portrayed him as aligned with Americans hurt his credibility and that a new president should be seen as a symbol of sovereignty and should be representative of all Iraqis.

Pachachi said the new government must win support because Iraq can't afford further instability while already facing lawlessness and violence.

"I hope it will be accepted," he said of the new government.

Al Yawer on Tuesday praised American efforts and said he looks forward to a full restoration of Iraqi independence. But in recent weeks he's become increasingly critical of what he called the Americans' inept mistakes during the occupation and has called for more Iraqi say over the role of American troops after June 30. In April, he threatened to resign from the Governing Council over U.S. military operations in Fallujah.

A 45-year-old civil engineer and businessman who dresses in traditional Arab robes, al Yawer earned a master's degree from George Washington University and spent several years in Saudi Arabia.

The new government showed a determination to appear separate from the Iraqi Governing Council, which was widely unpopular with Iraqis, while remaining influenced by the politicians who dominated the previous Iraqi group.

Only three of the 40 or so Iraqi leaders in the new government served on the Iraqi Governing Council, including al Yawer and the prime-minister-designate, Iyad Allawi. But many have close ties to the council.

As expected, the new government also showed ethnic and religious diversity. Al Yawer is Sunni, while the more powerful prime minister, Allawi, is Shiite. Ibrahim Jaffery of the Shiite Dawa Party and Roj Nuri Shawis of the Kurdistan Democratic Party were appointed as vice presidents.

A Kurd, Barham Saleh, a U.S.-backed moderate, was appointed deputy prime minister for national security. Another Kurd, Hoshyar Zebari, remained in charge of the foreign ministry. Six women also were among the 33 new ministers.

A notable omission from the new Iraqi leadership was Ahmad Chalabi, who was once a favorite of some officials in the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's office to play a major political role in Iraq. Chalabi has suffered a major fall from grace, punctuated by a U.S.-military-supported raid on his Baghdad home and allegations that he may have supplied information to Iran.

In Washington, President Bush endorsed Brahimi's selections while other administration officials stressed that the interim government wouldn't be beholden to the White House.

"The naming of the new interim government brings us one step closer to realizing the dreams of millions of Iraqis, a sovereign nation with a representative government that protects their rights and serves their needs," Bush said. "All the prime minister needs to know is that I look forward to a close relationship with him."

But not too close. Administration officials repeatedly maintained Tuesday that the interim government wasn't window-dressing or a shell for the United States.

"These are not America's puppets," national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said. "These are independent-minded Iraqis who are determined to take their country to security and democracy."

As if to punctuate the claims of independence, the United States on Tuesday circulated a revised U. N. Security Council resolution that states explicitly that Iraq will control its own security forces and promises that U.S. troops will leave Iraq once an elected government is in place.

The revisions were in response to criticisms from France, Germany, Russia and China, as well as many Iraqis, that the resolution's original draft didn't go far enough in returning sovereignty to Baghdad.

The document specifies "that the multinational force's mandate will end upon completion of the political process that leads to democratic elections under a new constitution," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

That's supposed to take place by the end of 2005 or early 2006.

Boucher said the document also states that the U.S.-led force will be withdrawn earlier if requested by an Iraqi transitional government due to be elected by January 2005.

Iraqis offered mixed views on their latest rulers. While skepticism about anything involving the United States in Iraq has become widespread, some residents were upbeat about the people selected.

"We are very optimistic about this new government," said Amer Alwan, 30, an engineer at a refinery in Baghdad.

Alwan said he was encouraged that the appointees are well-educated and include longtime opponents to the former regime of Saddam Hussein.

"That's why I believe they are leaders and they will be good," Alwan said.

If the transitional government represents real change, "they should make us feel the change," said a 50-year-old university librarian who gave her name as Umm Ali.

The government should tackle pressing issues such as security and housing, she said.

Safa Ghanem, 40, who owns a small nursery in the capital, said he believes Iraqis should unite behind the new government as it tackles important issues, especially security.

He offered himself as an example. He said he wants American occupation forces to leave Iraq. But if the new government determines those forces need to stay for security reasons, "then my personal opinion would be: They should stay."

However, others expressed no confidence that the transitional government would serve them well and improve their lives.

"Nothing better at all," said Ibrahim Ra'ed, 19, an engineering student at Al-Nahrain University. "No change."

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(Warren Strobel and William Douglas contributed to this story from Washington.)

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

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

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20040501 Iraq pres

Iraq

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