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Iraqi Shiites Expected to Announce Jafari as Prime Minister

Iraqi election officials are hoping to certify the election results by Thursday afternoon, and the political parties hope to have reached a deal on the new government by the time that happens. The political jockeying for positions has been intense over the last several weeks, as the Shiite alliance tried to decide which of its members to nominate for the prime minister's job, while at the same time striking deals with other parties for their support.

The Shiite Islamic coalition won nearly half the votes in last month's election and will probably have about half the seats in the National Assembly. But it will still have to ally itself with other groups in order to form a government. The choices of president and prime minister require approval from two-thirds of the assembly members.

At this point, interim Vice President Ibrahim Jafari looks likely to become Iraq's next prime minister, with Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as president.

In an interview with VOA last week, Mr. Jafari said he hopes to reach out to other groups and include them in both the government and the drafting of the constitution.

"The next government's priority will be striking a balance between the Shia and the Sunni and the other ethnic groups here in Iraq," he said. "The new government will be inclusive, and we will concentrate on opening a dialogue between all the ethnic and sectarian groups."

Mr. Jafari said Sunni Arabs are a major component of Iraqi society and should be included at the highest levels of government.

Some politicians, both in Iraq and in the United States, have demanded a timetable for withdrawal of American troops from Iraq after the new government takes over. Switching from Arabic into English, Mr. Jafari said international troops will have to remain in Iraq until the security situation stabilizes, and it is impossible to set a schedule for that now.

"Of course, the presence of multi-national forces, it is not a positive sign because they are not Iraqi," said Mr. Jafari. "But compare their presence with their absence. Take into consideration our need to them for the security. I think we have to accept them till we can depend on ourselves."

Mr. Jafari heads the Dawa Party, a Shiite Islamic party with close ties to Iran. He was born in Karbala and trained as a medical doctor in Mosul. He went into exile in Iran 25 years ago, and remained there for a decade until moving to London around 1990. He presents himself as a moderate, and he stresses that he does not envision creating an Iranian-style theocracy for Iraq. And he hopes that the Iraqi people will hold the government to account during the next election, if it does not keep its promises.

"I think our people, we start information of political system," he added. "This is a start point, this is not the end. And we have to prove that we are not only efficient to start, we are also efficient to continue."

In other news Wednesday, insurgents released a videotape of a kidnapped Italian journalist begging for her life. Correspondent Giuliana Sgrena was seen urging Italy to withdraw its troops from Iraq, and urging all foreigners to stay out of the country. Insurgents also attacked a major oil pipeline in northern Iraq, shutting down the flow of oil to Turkey for up to a week, and killed an army colonel charged with protecting the northern oil fields.