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Iraqis Give Mixed Reaction to Allawi's Nomination - 2004-05-29

In Iraq, the nomination of a former exile with close ties to the United States to become the country's interim prime minister, has met with with mixed reactions from Iraqis.

Most Iraqis here say they did not hear the news about the prime minister-designate until early Saturday morning.

Following a special Governing Council meeting in Baghdad Friday, the council announced that it had unanimously nominated one of its own members, Shiite Muslim politician Iyad Allawi, as its choice for prime minister of an interim government that will take power in Iraq on June 30.

Late Friday night local time, the United Nations confirmed that the U.N. special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, had accepted the Governing Council's decision, and would work with Mr. Allawi in forming a full interim Cabinet.

On the streets of Baghdad, Iraqis reacted to the news of Mr. Allawi's nomination with both hope and skepticism.

Most said they knew little about the man who spent more than three decades in exile, first as a medical student in Britain, who strongly supported Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. Mr. Allawi later turned against Saddam, and in 1990, formed the Iraqi National Accord, an opposition party, backed by the Central Intelligence Agency, British intelligence and many defectors from Saddam's army.

Twenty two-year-old Kurdish storekeeper Mohommed Majid says he does not care about Mr. Allawi's past. He says all he wants is a leader who can put an end to Iraq's continuing security problems.

Mr. Majid says he has heard that Mr. Allawi has much experience in dealing with military matters. He says, if that is true, he believes the politician may be the right man to lead a country that desperately needs security and peace.

Iraqi artist Wisam Radhi, who, like Mr. Allawi is a Shiite, disagrees, and says Mr. Allawi's past does matter. He insists Mr. Allawi's one-time support for the Baath Party, which harshly persecuted the Shiites during its rule, can never be forgiven or forgotten.

Mr. Radhi says he will never trust Mr. Allawi, because he once supported a brutal regime that killed hundreds-of-thousands of innocent people.

An Iraqi journalist, Najim Al-Rubaie, says he believes most people here would accept Mr. Allawi as interim leader, as long as he is seen as working for the Iraqi people.

Mr. Rubaie says Mr. Allawi's greatest challenge as prime minister will be to convince the Iraqis that he is working on their behalf, and not in the interest of the United States or the United Nations.

The selection process for the interim government has been overseen by the United Nations, in close consultation with the United States. Observers here say Iyad Allawi's membership in the U.S.-appointed Governing Council, his links to Western intelligence agencies and his years in exile could prove controversial among Iraqis, who remain suspicious of politicians who lived abroad and received Western backing.