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New Iraqi leader has broad ties

By Associated Press
Published June 2, 2004

BAGHDAD - Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, the tribal chief who on Tuesday was named interim president of Iraq, blames much of the postwar chaos on the U.S.-led occupation but is not seen as anti-American.

Yawer was born in 1958, the same year Iraqi army officers overthrew his country's monarchy.

His grandfather, Ahmed Ajil al-Yawer, had served as a member of the king's Parliament. In 1959, Yawer's Shammar tribe supported an aborted military revolt against Gen. Abdul Karim Qassim.

In the mid 1980s, Yawer moved with his family to Saudi Arabia. He studied engineering at Saudi Arabia's Petroleum and Minerals University, and later studied in the United States.

Yawer returned to Iraq after the U.S.-led war that toppled Saddam Hussein. He was not known to be active among Iraqi exiles opposed to Hussein.

Though his post is largely ceremonial, Yawer's prominence could help Iraq build ties with neighboring Arab, Sunni Muslim countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, where he still has business interests. One of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's wives is a member of the Shammar tribe. The tribe also has members in Syria.

The Shammar tribe, one of the largest in the Persian Gulf region, includes Shiite as well as Sunni Muslim clans. Yawer, an Arab and a Sunni, built good relations with Kurds and Shiites who refused to endorse his rival Adnan Pachachi, seen as the U.N. and U.S. candidate for the presidency.

In an interview published Tuesday in the Saudi daily al-Riyadh, Yawer belittled Pachachi, saying the octogenarian former foreign minister had been caught napping at meetings of the Iraqi Governing Council and had no "popular base inside Iraq."

Yawer was quoted as saying U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who announced Yawer's appointment Tuesday, had told him Pachachi should get the presidency in recognition of his age and stature.

"How can honoring someone in his last days come at the expense of Iraq's future, which needs to be rejuvenated?" Yawer was quoted as telling al-Riyadh.

Yawer was quoted as saying Paul Bremer, head of the U.S.-led occupation authority, offered him "several posts," including ambassador to Washington, if he would pass up the presidency.

"I told him, "Search for whoever wants to go to Washington, I am the son of this country and am clinging to it, and it is the Iraqi people who want to nominate me - if you believe in democracy and respond to the people's will.' "

In a televised address after his election was announced, Yawer called on the United Nations to play a major role in "bringing full sovereignty back to Iraq."

"Iraqis are looking forward to a free, independent, democratic, unified and federal Iraq," said Yawer, who has blamed the post-Hussein chaos in Iraq on the U.S. occupation. Yawer also has denounced violence against American and other coalition forces.

Yawer, wearing his usual traditional Arab robes and head gear, made no reference to the United States or its Coalition Provisional Authority in his address.

[Last modified June 1, 2004, 23:55:20]

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