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Jaafari Builds Bridges

Leading candidate for the premiership extends his hand to Sunnis and radical Shia.
By Zaineb Naji

Interim vice-president Ibrahim al-Jaafari, leading candidate for the post of Iraqi prime minister, this week declared his desire to build political bridges by insisting that Sunnis, who largely boycotted the elections, should be included in government along with the Shia firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr.

Jaafari spoke to reporters after a February 17 press conference by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, IECI, which certified the results of the January 30 elections for the 275-member National Assembly.

The IECI said the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shia-led bloc of which Jaafari is part, will have 140 seats; The Kurdish Alliance List, made up of the two major Kurdish parties, 75; and the Iraqi List, led by interim premier Ayad Allawi, 40.

The remaining 20 seats will be divvied up between nine parties, including al-Iraqiyun (“The Iraqis”, the party led by interim president Ghazi al-Yawar which is to receive five seats.

The assembly’s main task will be to draft a permanent constitution that will be put before the public in an October referendum.

No parties received the two-thirds majority necessary to rule without a coalition partner and Jaafari’s comments reflected that reality. His Shia-led bloc will have to form a coalition, perhaps with the Kurdish Alliance, in order to have the required majority necessary to approve measures.

Jaafari, who heads the Islamic Dawa Party, expressed his willingness to cooperate with the other political groups and said Sunnis, who largely stayed home on election day, needed to be included in government.

“We respect all those who boycotted the elections and we will prove to them that we will deal with them,” said Jaafari, 58, a doctor who fled from Iraq in 1980 and lived in London until Saddam Hussein was overthrown. “The constitution won’t be complete if the Sunnis don’t participate.”

He also said he welcomed the prospect of non-Shia holding the posts of president and parliamentary speaker. The Kurdish Alliance has put forward Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, for the former job and it has been suggested the Sunnis will be offered the latter.

The National Assembly will choose a president and two deputy presidents, which will then in turn choose a prime minister.

Jaafari reiterated that he wanted Muqtada al-Sadr, the young cleric whose supporters have fought the American military in the past, to be a part of the new Iraq.

The National Independent Elites and Cadres Party, which includes supporters of Sadr, will have three seats in the parliament.

“Iraq’s political field is open for all Iraqis, including the Sadr movement,” said Jaafari. “The Sadr movement has a long history and it has made sacrifices and taken firm stands. That’s why I addressed this issue and say in a direct way that Muqtada al-Sadr can participate in the political process in establishing Iraq’s new political house.”

This desire to have Sadr in the government may be a reflection of Jaafari’s religious beliefs, as he is seen by some as being more conservative than other candidates for the prime minister post, including interim finance minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and Ahmed Chalabi, a secular Shia and former American ally.

Mahdi, who belongs to the other major Shia party in the United Iraqi Alliance, the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq, withdrew his name from the running so as to prevent cracks in the bloc, and Chalabi is seen as a long-shot candidate.

Jaafari has said that Islam should be used as one of the sources of legislation, but that concept is likely to face opposition from the Kurds, who want a secular state.

Still, Adnan Mufti, a member of the political bureau of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said Jaafari was an acceptable candidate for the post of prime minister.

“The United Iraqi Alliance have said they don’t want to establish an Islamic state,” said Mufti. “And their list includes figures who believe in federalism.”

Zaineb Naji is an IWPR trainee journalist in Baghdad.

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