Negroponte’s Candidate for Post-Election Prime Minister

Washington’s man in Iraq, US ambassador John Negroponte, has analyzed and built a set of recommendations for the future regime in Baghdad based on the January 30 election forecast drawn up for CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid (as revealed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly last week).

His recommendations have been approved by the White House, according to DEBKANet-Weekly‘s sources in Washington.

The key results projected are a 43.3% win for Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani‘s Unified Iraq Alliance, a massive 36.4% for the United Kurdish List and a low 8.1% for interim prime minister Iyad Allawi‘s National Accord.

Regardless of his showing at the poll, the ambassador’s principal recommendation is Allawi’s confirmation as future prime minister of Iraq after the election too.

Negroponte is also convinced that the large alliances running for election to secure bloc representation in the national assembly are ephemeral. This is applies especially to Sistani’s unified Shiite list of 228 candidates representing 16 separate party factions. He predicts that the top two, Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim‘s SCIRI and Ibrahim Al-Jafari‘s Al-Daawa, will break away before long. The only bloc the US ambassador expects to survive intact is the unified Kurdish list headed jointly by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani.

Negroponte’s prediction that the Shiite bloc will splinter is based on two facts:

1. The leaders of most of its component parties are no longer on speaking terms and are only waiting for the ballot to be over to go their separate ways.

2. Sistani created the alliance primarily to establish a major bloc in the national assembly. Once that is achieved, his only interest will be to ensure that elected government and the new constitution proclaim Iraq a republic governed according to Islamic law. The Shiite cleric cares about this more than who is prime minister.

Negroponte points out that Sistani is opposed to the rise of a theocracy in Iraq. He established the Shiite alliance in the first place on three principles:

A. No clerics will serve as cabinet ministers.

B. Iraq will not be governed by a purely Shiite regime.

C. Shiites officiating in key government positions must conduct themselves as Iraqis first and Shiites second.

Therefore, although the influential Shiite cleric would like to see the Shiite nuclear physicist Dr. Hussein Shahrastani in the premiership (as DNW reported in Issue 188), he will not object to another candidate, including Allawi.

Our sources in Baghdad add that after receiving the blessing of the White House, Negroponte asked Kurdish deputy prime minister Braham Salah to organize a pre-election coalition to confirm Allawi’s appointment. Salah, after seeking the endorsement of the two Kurdish leaders, Barzani and Talabani, went energetically to work. By the end of this week, the pro-Allawi coalition began to take shape. Its first supporters are the Unified Kurdish List which expects to win 100 seats in the 275 national assembly, Allawi’s own National Accord, president Ghazi Yawar‘s Iraqi Groupone of the few Sunni Muslim factions entered – and the Shiite Al-Daawa. Salah is in exploratory contacts with SCIRI too.

Ambassador Negroponte knows as well as anyone that US plans for Iraq’s future are contingent not just on Sunni participation in the vote – no one doubts that it will be very low – but the general turnout. If that too is below par, then his plans have little chance of takeoff.

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