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Jaafari Inches Closer to PM Job

Iraq's main Shi'ite alliance named Ibrahim al-Jaafari as its candidate for prime minister Tuesday, meaning he will almost certainly get the job following the alliance's success in last month's historic election.

Jaafari, a religious Shi'ite and head of the Islamist Dawa Party, had faced competition from inside the alliance from former exile Ahmad Chalabi, once favored by the Pentagon.

But alliance sources said that Chalabi withdrew his candidature at a meeting in Baghdad, and the alliance's 140 members unanimously approved Jaafari.

The bald, grey-bearded 58-year-old still faces a challenge from incumbent interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

But Allawi's list won only 14 percent of the vote in last month's election, weakening his hand, while the Shi'ite alliance won 48 percent - enough for a majority in the National Assembly - and has insisted on having the prime minister's job.

Jaafari is a soft-spoken diplomat who was a member of the US-appointed Governing Council that ran Iraq after the 2003 war. He joined Dawa - Iraq's oldest Islamic movement - in 1966, but was forced to flee to Iran in 1980 after a crackdown on the party in which thousands of his comrades were killed.

He is a physician and father of five, and his family lives in London.

Insurgents reminded the future government of the challenges it will face by detonating a car bomb near an Iraqi army convoy as it left Baghdad's fortified Green Zone. Two soldiers were killed and 30 wounded by the blast, which sprayed shrapnel over a wide area and could be heard across the city.

The human rights group Amnesty International also gave Iraq's future leaders food for thought, publishing a report which said Iraqi women were no better off now than under Saddam Hussein.

The report, entitled "Iraq - Decades of Suffering," accused some US soldiers of abusing Iraqi women.
"Women have been subjected to sexual threats by members of the US-led forces and some women detained by US forces have been sexually abused, possibly raped," it said.

Washington said it would study the report and test the validity of the allegations.

The US military said one of its Marines had been killed in western Anbar Province, where American and Iraqi forces have launched a major campaign to flush out insurgents.

The death took the number of US troops killed in action in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion to 1,125.

In a Shi'ite area of Baghdad, an Iraqi army brigade became the first in the country to take control of its area from US-led forces - a symbolic moment the Americans hope will be repeated across the country, allowing it eventually to withdraw its 150,000 troops.

The Iraqi commander of the brigade hailed the handover of authority as "a historic event in the history of Iraq."

Australia said it would send a further 450 soldiers to Iraq to bolster the 800 troops it already has in the country. The new soldiers will be based in southern Muthanna Province and will guard Japanese engineers and train the Iraqi army after the withdrawal of Dutch soldiers from the area next month.

The Shi'ite alliance's decision to nominate Jaafari for the premier's job is likely to open a new round of horse-trading between his supporters and those of Allawi, a secular Shi'ite and the only other candidate in the running.

(China Daily February 23, 2005)


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