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Shi'ite Leaders Meet to Discuss New Gov't

Members of the winning Shi'ite political alliance converged on the home of the ticket leader Wednesday, as they prepared to announce their candidate for the country's next prime minister.

Leading candidate Ibrahim al-Jaafari visited Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the alliance's leader at his office in Baghdad to discuss the pending announcement. Shortly after he left, his main rival, former Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi, arrived for talks.

The race to be the Shi'ite's pick for prime minister narrowed on Tuesday, when Adel Abdul Mahdi, who has close ties to Iran, dropped out.

A close aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who almost guaranteed the United Iraqi Alliance's victory when he endorsed it, said that "al-Jaafari is the most likely nominee for the prime minister, the grand cleric has the final say."

The aide, speaking on condition he not be named, said the alliance's leaders will visit al-Sistani's office in Najaf to get his blessing for their choice for prime minister, or in the event they can't agree, al-Sistani will make the final decision.

Al-Hakim, a Shi'ite cleric with close ties to Iran, has said he is not interested in the prime minister's post.

The closed door meetings came as the Iraqi Electoral Commission's deadline to file complaints approached. Commission official Adel al-Lami said that only three complaints had been filed by yesterday morning. The commission will not certify the provisional results of the January 30 elections, announced Sunday, until all challenges are resolved - a process which could take days or even weeks.

In an interview, al-Jaafari said on Tuesday that he wanted a constitution that will draw not only on Islam.

"Islam should be the official religion of the country, and one of the main sources for legislation, along with other sources that do not harm Muslim sensibilities," said al-Jaafari, who currently serves as Iraq's interim vice-president and had been living in London until Saddam was overthrown.

Meanwhile, gunmen shot dead an Interior Ministry intelligence officer in a southern Baghdad neighborhood yesterday, and US troops clashed with insurgents west of the Iraqi capital, police and witnesses said.

Attackers opened fire on 1st Lieutenant Ghazi Hoshi as he was getting into his car to go to work in Baghdad's volatile Dora district, said Falah Mohamadawi, a police detective.

In Ramadi, 110 kilometers west of the capital, insurgents fired more than 25 mortar rounds at US and Iraqi positions, including a group of US troops hunkered in an abandoned glass factory, witnesses said.

In another development, Giuliana Sgrena, an Italian journalist kidnapped in Iraq, appeared on a tape released by insurgents yesterday begging for her life and appealing for foreign troops to withdraw from Iraq.

"I beg you, put an end to the occupation. I beg the Italian Government and the Italian people to put pressure on the government to pull out," she said on the undated tape, holding her hands in front of her in supplication. Sgrena, 57, was seized in Baghdad on February 4.

(China Daily February 17, 2005)


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