Iraqi Parliament appoints first Kurdish President
Parliament elected veteran Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as Iraq's President yesterday, breaking a two-month political impasse and paving the way for a new government more than nine weeks after elections.
Mr Talabani is the first Kurd to be Iraq's President - and the first non-Arab President of any Arab state - a sign of the new clout of the Kurdish minority that backed the US-led invasion.
Two vice Presidents were elected: Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shi'ite who was finance minister in the outgoing government, and Sunni Arab tribal leader Ghazi Yawar, the former President.
The Sunni minority dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein, whose ousted regime oppressed Shi'ites and massacred Kurds.
"This is the new Iraq - an Iraq that elects a Kurd to be President and an Arab former President as his deputy," Parliament speaker Hajem al-Hassani said after the vote.
"What more could the world want from us?" In Kurdish towns across northern Iraq, residents danced in the streets, waved Kurdish flags and posters of Mr Talabani, and honked their car horns. Kurds also celebrated in Kirkuk, where ethnic tensions have been mounting due to competing Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen claims on the strategic oil city.
Turkey welcomed Mr Talabani's appointment, despite its fears that growing Kurdish influence in Iraq could fuel demands by the 12 million Kurds in Turkey for greater autonomy.
Hailed by a standing ovation in Parliament, Mr Talabani pledged to work together with all ethnic and religious factions to rebuild Iraq after decades of conflict and dictatorship.
US President George W. Bush, who has told Americans their troops will come home as Iraq establishes a new government, said in a statement: "The Iraqi people have shown their commitment to democracy and we, in turn, are committed to Iraq."
The Islamist-led Shi'ite alliance that won a slim majority in the January 30 Parliamentary election and the Kurdish coalition that came second have been arguing for weeks over sharing power.
They have also been trying to include representatives of the Sunni Arab minority that dominated Iraq for decades but was left sidelined after most Sunni Arabs stayed away from the January polls due to intimidation and calls for a boycott. There are only 17 Sunni Arab lawmakers in the 275-member Parliament.
Disagreement over which Sunni Arab would be vice President held up a deal, but political leaders decided late on Tuesday to favour Mr Yawar over elder statesman Adnan Pachachi, who was once foreign minister before Saddam came to power.
Now the President and his two deputies have been appointed they must name a prime minister within two weeks.
Kurds, who are mostly Sunni Muslims, and Shi'ites have agreed Islamist Shi'ite leader Ibrahim Jaafari should be prime minister, taking over from secular Shi'ite Iyad Allawi. Mr Jaafari is expected to be appointed by tomorrow. He will name a cabinet.
Disagreement remains on some government posts, particularly the oil ministry, which is coveted by both Shi'ites and Kurds.
Many Iraqis have complained that politicians have let them down by taking so long to form a government. Several Iraqi officials say the delay has benefited Iraq's insurgents.
A US soldier was killed in Baghdad when guerillas ambushed a patrol with a roadside bomb and then opened fire, the American military said. On Tuesday, the military said four US soldiers had been killed in attacks in Iraq.
Since the invasion in March 2003, at least 1,540 US military and Pentagon personnel have died in Iraq.
US officers say the frequency of insurgent attacks is falling. In recent weeks guerillas have fought several large-scale battles with US forces - an unusual development as insurgents generally favour hit-and-run attacks.
On Monday, dozens of insurgents fought US and Iraqi forces in a remote area east of Baghdad. Two Americans and one Iraqi soldier were killed, the US military said. Iraq's government said yesterday that 17 insurgents were killed in the battle.