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Two top candidates emerge to be Iraqi PM

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb Monday.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- A French-educated finance minister and a former London physician emerged Monday as the top candidates to be Iraq's next prime minister, as leaders of the clergy-backed Shiite Muslim alliance launched consultations after failing to get a two-thirds majority in the vote for Iraq's new parliament.
The prominence of urbane, moderate, Western-oriented figures appears designed to counter concern in Washington that Iran's influence will grow in Iraq after a Shiite-dominated government takes power -- even though the ultimate decision may rest with a reclusive elderly cleric.
Adel Abdul-Mahdi, the interim finance minister, and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the interim vice president, were said to be the leading candidates for prime minister.
The Kurds, who are poised to become kingmakers in the new Iraq, have already said they want Jalal Talabani, a secular Sunni Kurd and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, to be Iraq's next president. The Shiites may seek a deal with the Kurds to back Talabani for president in return for Kurdish support for their prime ministerial choice.
The Kurds, who comprise about 15 percent of Iraq's population, have demanded the new constitution legalize Kurdish self-rule in the north. They also want an end to what they call "Arabization" of Kirkuk and other northern areas where most of the Arabs are Sunni Muslims.
American killed
Roadside bombs on Monday killed a U.S. soldier and three Iraqi National Guard troops, and officials said insurgents blew up an oil pipeline near Kirkuk and killed two senior police officers in Baghdad.
Three other American soldiers were wounded when the bomb detonated near their patrol outside the town of Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, the military said.
At least 1,461 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
The Jan. 30 election results for the National Assembly, announced Sunday, gave the clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance 48 percent of the vote, the Kurdish alliance 26 percent, and the ticket led by interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who supported strong ties to Washington, only 14 percent.
Backroom trading for the top posts in the new government began in earnest Monday after the United Iraqi Alliance failed to secure the two-thirds majority in the newly elected assembly that would have allowed it to control the legislature and install whomever it wanted as president.
The National Assembly's first task is to elect a president and two vice presidents by a two-thirds majority. The three then choose a new prime minister subject to assembly approval.
The parties that make up the alliance -- the Islamic Dawa Party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and former Pentagon prot & eacute;g & eacute; Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress -- huddled for talks to decide on a prime ministerial candidate.
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