Allawi's party warns possible successor over Iran ties and role of Islam in state

Posted in Iraq | 17-Feb-05 | Source: The Daily Star (Lebanon Edition)

Concerns arise that jaafari could impose his brand of social conservatism

The secular party of Iraq's outgoing Prime Minister Ayad Allawi on Wednesday warned the religious Shiite now tipped to succeed him over his ties to Iran and the role of Islam in the state.

On Tuesday, sources in the coalition that won the Jan. 30 elections and that is backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani said it had chosen interim vice president and Dawa party leader Ibrahim Jaafari as its candidate for prime minister.

Other sources, however, maintain that leaders of the winning Shiite political alliance have not yet agreed on a single nominee for prime minister, with Jaafari and Ahmed Chalabi insisting on a vote by the parliamentarians elected to the new National Assembly.

In a thinly veiled reference to Jaafari's ties with the neighboring Islamic Republic, Allawi aide Imad Shahib said "he has to behave as an Iraqi. He has to be loyal to Iraq and not to another country." Jaafari edged out Finance Minister Adel Abdel-Mehdi, from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), the other heavyweight in the coalition that is set to control more than half of the seats in the 275-member National Assembly.

"Religion is a dangerous thing for Iraq. We don't want the Lebanese (civil war) story to be repeated here. There are Shiites and Sunnis in the same tribes, in the same families, but if we go down this road, we will create divisions," he told AFP.

"The prime minister should not be a Sunni or a Shiite, he should be the best leader for Iraq," Shabib said. "Doctor Jaafari is our friend ... but what we say to Sciri and Dawa is: 'Be careful.'"

Jaafari, who heads the oldest Shiite party in Iraq, is thought to be among the country's most popular politicians. He has used conciliatory rhetoric in recent weeks and insists he will extend a hand to the disempowered Sunni community.

Some observers have raised concerns that Jaafari could impose his brand of social conservatism once in power and push for a heavy Islamic imprint on the permanent Constitution the parliament is due to draft by Aug. 15.

Shabib was bitter about the election results, which saw Allawi's Iraqi list finish a distant third behind the Sistani-backed United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish alliance.

With the Shiite list according to some sources having anointed Jaafari as its candidate for the premiership, parties haggled Wednesday over the makeup of the next executive.

Washington meanwhile said it had begun moves to freeze the assets of a Kuwaiti man they say is a key fundraiser for the bloody insurgency.

Also on Wednesday, Iraq's influential Sunni Muslim Clerics' Association said the country's politicians should focus on having U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq, not on forming a Parliament after last month's elections.

"We believe the goal should not be the Parliament, but rather it should be who can get the occupiers out of our country," Sheikh Abdel-Salam al-Kubaisi, a senior cleric in the association, told Reuters in an interview.

"It should be the real mission of all the Iraqis - Sunnis and Shiites. Iraq now needs a united stance, and the real issue is who will stand against the occupiers, not who will get into the coming Parliament."

In violence Wednesday, a crowd of Shiites marking a religious ceremony spotted a suspected suicide bomber amongst them and, fearing he might blow himself up, beat the man to death, Iraqi police said.

Also, nine Iraqis, most of them members of the security forces, were killed overnight in a string of attacks north of Baghdad, security and medical sources said Wednesday.

Iraq's police and army have been a frequent target of insurgents since the toppling of Saddam Hussein by U.S.-led forces in April 2003 but the level of violence has dropped off since the landmark Jan. 30 election.

An army colonel protecting oil fields from insurgents near the disputed northern city of Kirkuk was shot dead by armed men while he was on patrol, a fellow officer said.

Two fires broke out on petrol pipelines in the same area. - Agencies