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Decision on Iraqi Presidential Nomination Delayed - 2004-05-31

Iraqi, American and United Nations officials in Baghdad have postponed a meeting to try to break a deadlock over the selection of a president for the Iraqi interim government that will take power on June 30. No official reason was given. The selection has narrowed to two members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, who have differing opinions about what role coalition troops should have in the period before national elections early next year.

The Iraqi Governing Council says many of the 22 council members are at odds with the head of the U.S.-led coalition administration, Paul Bremer and the U.N. special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, overthe choice for president.

A large majority of the Governing Council say they favor Ghazi Ajil al-Yawer, a U.S.-educated Sunni Muslim tribal sheikh, who currently holds the council's rotating presidency. Mr. Bremer and Mr. Brahimi, on the other hand, are said to favor council member Adnan Pachachi, a secular Sunni Muslim who once served as Iraqi foreign minister before Saddam Hussein's Baath Party took power.

A Kurdish member of the Governing Council, Mahmoud Othman, expressed his disapproval of what he sees as interference from the United States and the United Nations in the process of choosing Iraqi leaders. "Nobody has the right to make a government for Iraq, neither America or Brahimi," he says. "We know how to make our own government."

Mr. Pachachi played a major role in the drafting of the interim constitution, which provides a secular government framework and broad individual rights. The 81-year-old former exile supports keeping foreign troops in Iraq until the security situation improves.

The Governing Council's choice, Mr. Yawer, has been more critical of the U.S.-led occupation and has indicated that he would ask coalition troops to leave Iraq once the interim government assumes power at the end of June.

The post of the president in the new government is largely ceremonial, but it has an important symbolic value for Sunni Arabs, who are the second largest ethnic religious group in Iraq and the group most closely identified with Saddam's Baath Party.

On Friday, the Iraqi Governing Council nominated a prominent majority Shiite Muslim on the council, Iyad Allawi, to fill the more powerful post of prime minister. There appears to have been no disagreement between the Americans and the Governing Council on the decision to nominate Mr. Allawi, a former exile whose opposition group received financial backing from the United States and Britain for years.

The U.N. envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, accepted Mr. Allawi's nomination but is said to be troubled by Mr. Allawi's ties with the Central Intelligence Agency and the likelihood that the Iraqis would regard him as being too close to the United States.

U.N. officials say Mr. Brahimi originally had hoped to appoint an interim government of technocrats - experts who could not be identified by politics. They say the envoy's concern was that a government of politicians could end up looking like the Governing Council - a U.S.-appointed body that has lacked legitimacy among many Iraqis.