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US Official: Iraqi PM Nominee is Tough-Minded Leader


The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq says the man named to be the new Iraqi prime minister has the reputation of being a strong leader. More importantly, the candidate is acceptable to the country's Kurds and Sunni Arabs - who had opposed the previous nomination.

The Iraqi political process was deadlocked over the nomination of interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to hold this position for four years, in the country's first post-Saddam Hussein government.

But Mr. Jaafari's withdrawal cleared the way for the naming of Jawad al-Maliki to the post - breaking the political stalemate.

Speaking on CNN's "Late Edition," U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad said Mr. Maliki is someone who can unify the country. "The problem that Prime Minister Jaafari ran into was that the Kurds and Sunni Arabs rejected him. These two groups have welcomed Mr. Maliki," he said.

The U.S. diplomat said he believes Mr. Maliki is, in his words, a "tough-minded" patriot who is not subordinate to regional warlords. He added that he thinks Mr. Maliki is not influenced by Iran, and said he looks forward to working with him. "He has said a number of very positive things since he was nominated, that he will work for all Iraqis, he will put competent, independent, strong team together, that he will deal with the issue of the militias, and that he will also review the issue of how de-Baathification has been carried out," he said.

Khalilzad said he believes continued positive political development could be, in his words, "helpful" in determining how many U.S. troops to keep in Iraq. There are more than 130,000 American soldiers there.

Meanwhile, a new audio tape purported to be from al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, has once again raised questions about al-Qaida's role in the Iraqi insurgency. The U.S. envoy to Baghdad said he believes the terror network has some influence in Iraq, through Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his group, al-Qaida in Iraq.

But he said al-Qaida is far from having total control over Iraq's insurgency. "Well, there is terror and Zarqawi, that has ties to Bin Laden, is the leader of Iraq al-Qaida. Then, there is a different kind of insurgency, some with ties to al-Qaida, some independent of, and some are turning against al-Qaida. So, it is a more complicated picture than Zarqawi, al-Qaida, being the leadership of the insurgency here," he said.

Insurgent attacks across Iraq on Sunday killed at least 11 Iraqis and three U.S. soldiers. Most of the violence occurred in and around Baghdad.

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