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Winning Shiite list picks VP Jaafari as Iraq premier candidate
BAGHDAD (AFP) - The Shiite list that won Iraq's elections agreed on Vice President Ibrahim Jaafari as its candidate for the premiership, as parties continued to haggle over the makeup of the next executive.
In Washington, US President George W. Bush asked lawmakers for 81.9 billion dollars for the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as for Indian Ocean tsunami relief.
And one of Turkey's richest businessmen, who was taken hostage in Iraq almost two months ago, has been freed, the foreign ministry in Ankara said.
The man now poised to succeed Iyad Allawi and become Iraq's first elected prime minister since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003, is Ibrahim Jaafari, a popular politician who heads the country's oldest Shiite party, Dawa.
"In two or three days it will probably be announced that Mr Jaafari is the candidate for the premiership. We anticipate this to happen in a few days," Jaafari's deputy, Adnan Ali, told AFP.
A source from the rival Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq confirmed that its own candidate, Finance Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, had dropped out of the race.
"Doctor Jaafari was chosen after discussions with the other lists and agreement on this question was reached yesterday (Monday)," said United Iraqi Alliance candidate and SCIRI member Janan al-Obeidi.
The main Shiite coalition backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani -- the top Shiite cleric in Iraq -- is set to control more than half of the seats in the 275-member National Assembly and is widely expected to be granted the premiership.
The joint ticket uniting the two main Kurdish parties also made a strong showing in the results of the January 30 general elections announced on Sunday and could clinch the presidency.
The Sunni Arab minority, which scored poorly and will be almost absent from parliament, could yet be handed the post of parliamentary speaker, as part of a general effort to involve the disempowered community in the upcoming constitution-drafting process.
Some fear a marginalisation of the former Sunni elite could further fuel an insurgency, which has killed thousands and crippled the economy since the March 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam.
Officials and experts have predicted that haggling would carry on for some time and that all key positions would be announced simultaneously.
But the election results were not yet definitive as the commission was still investigating complaints lodged against the results.
"We have received three complaints," electoral commission official Adel al-Lami told AFP, refusing to specify their origin and content.
He said parties wishing to challenge the figures had until Tuesday night to do so and that it may take a few more days to certify the results.
"There could be some more complaints lodged on Tuesday but their small number is evidence of the transparency and credibility of the electoral process."
On Monday, Bush asked lawmakers for 81.9 billion dollars for the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as for Indian Ocean tsunami relief.
"This request reflects urgent and essential requirements. I ask the Congress to appropriate the funds as requested and promptly send the bill to me for signature," he said in a statement.
It includes 7.4 billion dollars to accelerate the training of local security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush has made the latter a precondition for withdrawing the roughly 140,000 US forces in Iraq.
It also includes 717 million dollars for US embassy and security expenses in Iraq, including 658 million to build a permanent facility for US diplomats there.
Meanwhile, Turkish shipping magnate Kahraman Sadikoglu, who was seized by kidnappers on December 19, was freed Monday in the south of Iraq and is due to return home on Tuesday.
An unconfirmed report said his family had paid a ransom of 500,000 dollars.
Three companions who were seized with him, two Turks and an Iraqi, were freed last month.
A total of some 80 Turks, most of them truck drivers plying Iraqi roads, have been killed in recent months. A number of Turkish companies active in Iraq have agreed to cease operations in return for the release of employees taken hostage.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Shi'ite politician and former exile Ibrahim al-Jaafari has emerged as the front-runner to become Iraq's new prime minister as horse-trading to decide who gets what job in the next government enters its final stages.
Jaafari, a physician and father of five, is the leader of the Dawa Party, one of two leading religious parties in the United Iraqi Alliance, a Shi'ite led group which won 48 percent of the vote in Iraq's elections on January 30.
"The competition is still fierce but it appears so far that Jaafari will be the United Iraqi Alliance candidate because Dawa is insisting on him," a senior Shi'ite source told Reuters.
While short of the 60 percent the alliance had expected, the win puts the coalition in a commanding position to take the top job in the next government. A two-thirds majority is needed in the newly elected National Assembly to form a government.
The United Iraqi Alliance, which is blessed by top Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is headed by Dawa and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), both of which opposed Saddam Hussein from exile in Iran.
The source said SCIRI, headed by Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, had agreed to support Jaafari and withdraw its candidate, Finance Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, "to preserve the unity of the alliance", which some had feared could collapse after the vote.
But the source said a final deal was unlikely to be concluded on Tuesday as other details about the new government, including who gets which ministries, must still be worked out.
Analysts expect the Kurds, who took 25 percent of the vote, to play a key role in the talks as Iraqis look towards a reduction and eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops.
The Kurds' powerful showing puts them in a kingmaker role -- if they ally with the Shi'ite alliance, the pair would have more than two-thirds in the assembly.
The Kurds have said they want Jalal Talabani, the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, to be Iraq's president. If that is the case, they are likely to support the Shi'ite list's choice for prime minister.
While the Shi'ite bloc won slightly less than half the vote, it could end up with about 140 seats in the assembly -- two more than a majority -- once all those votes that went to candidates who didn't get enough to secure a seat are redistributed.
That could happen by the end of the week, provided the final tally is certified on Wednesday as expected.
The Kurds' second place showing means they will get around 70 seats in the assembly. A list headed by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi came third and will have about 40 seats.
Sunni Arabs, most of whom either boycotted the vote or did not turn out because of violence, look set to get barely five seats in the assembly, leaving Iraq's once dominant minority out in the cold, raising fresh fears of sectarian attacks.
There are also fears of a rise in ethnic tensions around the divided northern city of Kirkuk, where Kurds won about 60 percent of the local vote after many Arabs and Turkmen, who also lay claim to the oil-rich city, boycotted the election.
Violence continued to boil. The U.S. army said one soldier died and three were hurt on Monday when guerrillas detonated a bomb as their combat convoy patrolled near Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad.
A provincial government official escaped an assassination attempt in the same area, the Iraqi National Guard said. They also reported that a secondary gas pipeline north of Kirkuk was burning after an insurgent attack. A school in Baghdad was hit by a mortar round, but there were no casualties.
Security forces are on alert ahead of Ashura, one of the holiest events in the Shi'ite calendar, paying homage to Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who died in battle in 680 A.D.
Iraq will close its borders between February 17 and February 22 to prevent foreign pilgrims from flooding the celebrations, which were targeted last year by suicide bombers who killed 171 in Kerbala and Baghdad.