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Iraqi council chooses 3-man leadership over president

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 20, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq's American-backed administration failed in its first week to choose a president, abandoning that mission in favor of a weak, three-man rotating leadership.

The council, agonizingly shepherded into existence by L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq, was announced last Sunday, saying its first order of business was the election of a president. When that did not happen after six days in session, officials of the Iraqi government told the Associated Press Saturday it would share the leadership job among at least three of 25 members.

Bremer left Baghdad unannounced Friday and was expected to be in Washington for about a week. His Baghdad office said the 61-year-old former diplomat and counterterrorism expert would visit the U.S. capital for consultations. He also is scheduled to appear on three weekly U.S. television interview programs today.

In Baghdad this week, Bremer nearly disappeared from public after the council was announced, an apparent bid to diminish the widely held perception among Iraqis and the rest of the world the Governing Council was an American puppet.

Bremer's office did not respond to requests for an assessment of the council's first week in business, but a spokesman for a council member issued a short statement.

"There is a general agreement that the presidency should be on a rotational basis because each political group in the council should shoulder an equal role and equal responsibility," said Ali Abdul-Amir, spokesman for council member Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi National Accord.

A council source told the Associated Press the three likely members of the rotating presidency will be: former Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi, 80, a Sunni Muslim who served in the government that Hussein's Baath Party ousted in 1968; Mohammed Bahr al-Uloum, 78, a cleric who returned from London after the 1991 Gulf War; and Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, who is in his early 50s, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and a Shiite cleric. He opposes the U.S. presence in the country but has close ties to U.S.-backed Kurds and Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress.

Chalabi, who left Iraq as a teenager, has been touted in some U.S. government circles as Iraq's likely first post-Hussein leader. But many in Iraq are distrustful of his close ties to Washington.

A Western diplomat who works closely with the council told the Associated Press the decision to establish a rotating presidency did not reflect political divisions among members of the governing body, whom, he said, were cooperating despite their religious and ethnic differences.

The diplomat said the move meant the job would be largely symbolic and clearly reflected an unwillingness among council members to vest too much authority in any one of them.

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