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Iraqi Parliament Prepares to Elect New President


Iraq's National Assembly
Iraq's parliament is preparing Wednesday to choose the country's new president, two months after the first democratic elections in a half-century. Senior political leaders say the new prime minister is also likely to be named.

After weeks of negotiations, Iraq's new parliament is reportedly set to elect Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as Iraq's president, a move that would underscore the desire to integrate the independence-minded Kurds into the Iraqi political mainstream.

Lawmakers from the Shi'ite and Sunni Arab groups are to be named to the two vice-presidential posts. The three leaders, called the presidential council, are then to nominate the prime minister, from the Shi'ite group.

A spokesman for the Shi'ite-led Coalition List, Ali al-Dabagh, says his group has made its choice.

"I think the same day, they are going to name the prime minister, prime minister is Dr. [Ibrahim] al-Jaafari. And we are working on the cabinets now for the ministries. So I think it will take days and not weeks after nominating the prime minister," he said.

The Shi'ite and Kurdish groups won more than three-fourths of the seats in last January's elections, while Sunnis won less than 20 seats because of a boycott.

Leaders of the various groups have spent weeks trying to forge a government of national unity that will oversee the drafting of a new constitution.

The parliament Tuesday elected outgoing Industry Minister Hajem al-Hassani of the Sunni group as its speaker. Representatives of the Shi'ite and Kurdish groups were chosen as his deputies.

The Iraqi general public has grown increasingly frustrated over the delays and many accused their leaders of caring more about personal positions than the Iraqi people.

A senior advisor in the Interior Ministry, Sabah Kadhim, says leaders of the security forces, which are battling a wave of violence, have also been urging the politicians to form a government quickly.

"As far as the armed forces are concerned there are major decisions to be made and awaiting the new government, and therefore time is very precious," he said.

Security officials have warned that the new government could face an escalation of violence by insurgents and international terrorists.

Iraqi officials Tuesday said gunmen kidnapped a senior military official in western Baghdad.

U.S. military officials said that a car bomb exploded near a convoy in southern Baghdad Tuesday, killing one U.S. soldier and wounding four others. Two American soldiers and one Iraqi soldier were killed Monday in a clash in eastern Diyali province and an in western al-Andar province, an American Marine was also reported killed in an explosion Monday.

And the U.S. military said 12 Iraqi prisoners and four prison guards were injured in a riot several days ago at a prison camp in southern Iraq. The International Red Cross has asked to investigate the incident.

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