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Iraq's Leading Shi'ite Party Chooses Jaafari as PM Candidate

Iraq's majority Shi'ite coalition picked Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a former physician with close ties to Iran, as their candidate for prime minister Tuesday. Mr. al-Jaafari's selection means it is possible that a Shi'ite will lead Iraq's first democratically elected government in 50 years.

The United Iraqi Alliance, the Shi'ite coalition that won 48 percent of the votes in the January 30 election, has selected Iraq's interim vice president, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, as their candidate for prime minister.

The 58-year-old doctor is a moderate Islamist and respected leader who lived in exile in Iran and London. Mr. al-Jaafari, who has reached out to Iraq's Sunni Muslims, is viewed as someone who will be able to unite the new government. His only serious competition for the premiership is expected to be Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, who has been nominated by his group, the Iraqi List.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Mr. al-Jaafari's selection was an important step in the Iraqi political process.

"We're looking forward to working with whatever Iraqi government emerges,” he said. “That'll be not only a prime minister but a president and other ministers. And we're looking forward to having a constructive relationship with the whole transitional government.”

Mr. al-Jaafari was chosen as the candidate of the United Iraqi Alliance after another member of the Alliance, Ahmad Chalabi, withdrew from the race. Mr. Chalabi is a secular Shi'ite who was strongly supported by the Pentagon before the invasion of Iraq, but has since fallen out of favor with Washington, reportedly for passing sensitive information to Iran.

The United Iraqi Alliance holds 140 of the 275 seats in the national assembly, and will need to build a coalition with smaller parties to form a new government. A two-thirds majority of the national assembly is required for the most important decisions, including the selection of prime minister.

The Shi'ite group now must negotiate with the Kurdish alliance that holds 75 seats in the national assembly. Those negotiations may take several weeks.