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Since 1st March, 1999
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Iraq PM grapples with status and team list

Baghdad, May 29 (Reuters): Iraq’s Prime Minister-designate Iyad Allawi began the process of forming a government team today, meeting US and Iraqi officials, aides said.

Confusion that surrounded his surprise nomination by Iraq’s US-appointed governing council yesterday rippled on, with one official in the US occupation authority calling him “just a nominee”, despite a White House and UN endorsement.

A senior US official in Baghdad later insisted, however, that the choice was final and said Iraq’s new President and two vice-presidents would probably be named tomorrow with the rest of the 26-minister cabinet line-up to follow in a day-or-two.

However, the governing council today agreed with the US-led administration and the UN on key posts in a new cabinet today, senior politicians said, but others cautioned that the list was not yet final. “The governing council, Bremer and Lakhdar Brahimi agreed on the list,” council member Ahmad Chalabi said, referring to US Iraq administrator Paul Bremer and UN envoy Brahimi.

“It is not 100 per cent certain that the nominees will accept it but it is pretty sure they will.”

Another senior politician confirmed that a list had been drawn up and said it would be announced tomorrow.

But Iraq’s current foreign minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, said the list was not final and had yet to be formally agreed. The new government is due to take over on June 30 when the US-led coalition formally hands over sovereignty.

Chalabi said the only point of dispute remaining was over the relatively ceremonial post of the President, who will have two deputies. He said the two main candidates for President were Adnan Pachachi, a Sunni who was foreign minister of Iraq in the 1960s before Saddam came to power, and Ghazi Yawar, a Sunni engineer who holds the rotating presidency of the council at the moment.

Chalabi said technocrat Thamir Ghadban, who briefly ran Iraq’s vital oil industry after the fall of Saddam, had been nominated as oil minister.

Kurdish politician Zebari would be defence minister while fellow Kurd Barham Salih would take over the foreign ministry, Chalabi said, adding that Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shia, was nominated to be finance minister and Samir Sumaidy, a Sunni, would stay on as interior minister.

Brahimi, asked by Washington to help set up an interim government to take over from US rule next month, seemed to have been completely taken aback by the way the 23-member governing council announced its choice of Allawi.

The US administration was also caught on the hop by the speed of the announcement. But as a long-time exile in the pay of the CIA, Allawi was always a strong candidate in Washington and US officials were clearly involved in steering the choice.

Ordinary Iraqis know little of a man who spent more than 30 years abroad, first as a medical student in Britain supporting Saddam Hussein’s Baath party and later as a wealthy exile who founded the Iraqi National Accord with funds from the CIA.

Aides to Allawi said he was meeting various fellow members of the governing council, which will give way on June 30 to the interim government. One said he also expected to meet Paul Bremer. A spokesman for Brahimi said the envoy would now work with Allawi to form a government. Its main task will be to organise Iraq’s first free elections in the new year amid widespread violence from sectarian militias.

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