Talabani elected as Iraqi president

The two-month political deadlock over the make-up of Iraq’s new leadership ended with the election of the Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as president on Wednesday.

More than nine weeks after the January 30 elections, the Iraqi Parliament voted in Talabani—a veteran of the Kurds’ Saddam-era struggles for independence—and paved the way for a new government in Baghdad.

The election of Talabani, Iraq’s first Kurdish president, reflects the largely pro-United States minority’s clout in post-war Iraq. On paper, the Iraqi presidency is a largely ceremonial post, but the presence of 72-year-old Talabani in Baghdad will prove influential.

A presidential council of Talabani and his two deputies, the former president Ghazi Yawer, a Sunni Arab tribal leader, and the finance minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi — who is a Shiite — will now appoint a prime minister to lead Iraq until the next set of elections take place in December.

Their choice, to be announced within the next two weeks, is expected to be Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a conservative Islamist also from the majority Shia community.

According to the interim law, if Jaafari is elected, he will have two weeks to form a government that must be approved by a two-thirds vote in Parliament.
If he cannot, then the choice of another prime minister falls to the 275-seat National Assembly, who must ratify the decision, again by a two-thirds majority.

Even if an administration can be named, the future of a Shia-Kurdish alliance looks shaky, critics say. The Kurds are decidedly secular and are seeking to distance their self-governed region from central government. The Shia-led alliance is backed by the Shia religious establishment in Najaf and is dominated by Islamists, many of whom are natural centralisers.

“There is little common ground other than a shared past of resistance against Saddam Hussein,’’ said one Western observer in Baghdad. “There does not seem to be any clarity about the future.’’ — Â

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