Shiites Choose Iraq's Leader

Iraq's Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari speaks to the media during a briefing in this Thursday, Aug. 4, 2005 file photo, in Baghdad, Iraq. Shiite lawmakers Sunday, Feb. 12, 2006 chose Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to head the new government, selecting the incumbent by a one-vote margin over Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Shiite officials said. (AP Photo/Mohammed Hato)
AP Photo
Shiite lawmakers Sunday chose Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to head Iraq's new government, Shiite officials said.

Al-Jaafari won 64 votes, one more than Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, officials said. There were two abstentions.

More than 100 lawmakers from the Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, gathered to vote.

The choice of the umbrella Shiite alliance is assured of becoming prime minister because Shiites won the most parliament seats in the Dec. 15 national elections.

Shiite lawyers cast their votes at the heavily guarded home of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of Abdul-Mahdi's party. Al-Jaafari's supporters gathered in the compound cheered when word of the outcome emerged from the closed door meeting room.

Al-Jaafari, a physician, is a member of the Dawa Party and spent years in exile in Iran and Britain before returning to his homeland after the U.S.-led coalition ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003.

His government, which took office in April 2005, had been widely criticized for failing to improve the country's crumbling infrastructure or deal effectively with the Sunni-led insurgency.

Meanwhile, the chief lawyer representing Saddam Hussein said Sunday he was wrong in reporting that the former Iraqi leader and seven co-defendants would begin a hunger strike to protest the "illegality" of the court hearing their case.

Khalil al-Dulaimi who had initially reported that the hunger strike would begin Monday, saying he received the information through sources at the detention center where Saddam and the other defendants were being held.

"I checked and I was told that the sources were not credible and that there will be no hunger strike on Monday," al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press. He declined to provide other details, saying he will issue a written statement later.

In other developments:

  • Insurgents fired a mortar Sunday into the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government, but there were no casualties. The loud explosion rocked central Baghdad shortly before midday and sent a cloud of smoke rising from within the Green Zone. U.S. military spokesman Maj. Tim Keefe said no casualties or damage were caused.
  • A car bomb exploded outside a Sunni Muslim mosque in southwestern Baghdad, killing at least eight Iraqis and wounding more than 20. Witnesses said at least six U.S. Humvees were also in the area at the time of the blast.
  • A roadside bomb blast has killed two U.S. Marines near the western Anbar province city of Fallujah, the military said Friday. The victims, assigned to 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, were wounded Thursday when an explosion targeted their patrol during combat operations near Fallujah.
  • Gunmen wearing Iraqi police uniforms kidnapped a Sunni Arab mosque preacher in Baghdad, police said. Sunni Arabs accuse Shiite Muslim-backed Interior Ministry police forces and militias of kidnapping and killing Sunnis in a widening campaign of sectarian violence.
  • CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier reports hostage negotiators, based on what they've seen, think that kidnapped American reporter Jill Carroll has been passed on now to a different set of captors, an extremist group possibly linked to al Qaeda. They deduced by watching the change of her dress in the videos. She was in Western-style clothing, and in the last two videos, she was wearing a veil.

    The dominant Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, won 128 seats. The Kurdish Coalition of parties led by President Jalal Talabani and Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani were the other big winners, claiming 53 seats.

    He said two Sunni Arab blocs, the Iraqi Accordance Front and the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, received 44 and 11 seats respectively. Sunni Arabs now have three times more seats than in the outgoing parliament.

    Sunni Arabs form the backbone of the raging insurgency, and bringing them into the government is seen as a way to reduce the violence.

    Under Iraq's new constitution, Talabani not only must convene the new assembly, he must also name a new prime minister in the next 15 days. Parliament then has 30 days to elect a new national president.

    If the Iraqis take the maximum time allowed for each step, it would be May before a government is in place. Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite widely mentioned as possible prime minister, has said he expected to finish the talks by mid-March.