Iraq Elects Kurdish President

Newly elected Iraqi interim President Jalal Talabani holds a press conference after the National Assembly meeting in Baghdad, Iraq Wednesday, April 6, 2005.
After two months of wrangling, Iraq's new government began to take shape Wednesday with the election of Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as the country's new president, and the promise to name another longtime foe of Saddam Hussein to the prime minister's post — all in a historic parliamentary session watched by the jailed former Iraqi leader.

Jalal Talabani was elected to the largely ceremonial job of president — with Shiite Adel Abdul-Mahdi and interim President Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni Arab, as vice presidents — bringing Iraq a step closer to Iraq's first democratically elected government in 50 years.

U.S. President George W. Bush called Wednesday's session a "momentous step forward in Iraq's transition to democracy."

"The Iraqi people have shown their commitment to democracy and we, in turn, are committed to Iraq," the president said in a statement. "We look forward to working with this new government, and we congratulate all Iraqis on this historic day."

But, as CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan reports, the role of the president chosen this week is largely symbolic.

"[His] main job is to elect the prime minister. That's the person who in effect will be the chief executive of the country," Cowan said from Baghdad. "And will really run things day to day."

Saddam and 11 of his top aides were given the choice of watching a tape of the session in their jail cells, and all chose to do so, Human Rights Minister Bakhtiar Amin said. Saddam watched it by himself, and the others watched it together.

"I imagine he was upset," Amin said. "He must have realized that the era of his government was over, and that there was no way he was returning to office."

In other developments:

  • As parliament met, mortar rounds landed in the street across the Tigris River from where the session was being held. A blast left a crater near the Ministry of Agriculture and the al-Sadeer hotel and injured at least one Iraqi civilian. The target of the attack was unclear, but the hotel, which has housed foreign contractors, has been attacked in the past.
  • The National Assembly also agreed Wednesday to eventually move into a building that is currently being used by the Defense Ministry. The building, which is outside of the Green Zone, was used by the Iraqi parliament before the monarchy was overthrown. It was not clear when the lawmakers would move into the building overlooking the Tigris River.
  • The U.S. military said in a statement that a Task Force Baghdad soldier was killed a day earlier when his patrol was hit by a bomb and attacked by insurgent gunmen.
  • The Interior Ministry announced that 17 insurgents were killed in clashes in eastern Diyala province two days prior. One Iraqi soldier was killed and 11 others were injured in the shootout. The U.S. military had previously reported that two U.S. soldiers were killed in the same area.
  • A militant group, the Islamic Army in Iraq, purportedly posted an Internet statement saying it had released two Sudanese hostages abducted in Baghdad because they had "confirmed their true repentance to God." In an earlier video posted on the Internet, the men said they were drivers for a Turkish company working for U.S. forces. The authenticity of the video has not been verified.
  • A soldier shot an Iraqi freelance reporter and cameraman employed by CBS News in northeastern Mosul while working. According to what the Pentagon told the CBS News bureau in Washington, Tuesday, Hussein was shot in the hip by a soldier who mistook his camera, which he was using at the time, for a weapon. Hussein is being treated and is expected to make a full recovery.