BAGHDAD, Iraq – After more than two weeks struggling to choose a leader, Iraq's American-picked interim government Wednesday named a Shiite Muslim from the Islamic Dawa Party (search) banned by Saddam Hussein as its first president, the first of nine leaders who will serve one-month rotations in alphabetical order.
Selecting a president had been a contentious issue as ethnic and political groups wrestled for a share of the power. In the end, the interim government decided on the alphabetical system to choose its leader. Members of the nine-member presidency were announced Tuesday.
The council will name Cabinet members, control spending and set in place the mechanism for writing a new Iraqi constitution. A council source told The Associated Press a Cabinet would be named in the coming days.
After the council meeting in Baghdad's Convention Center, a member lashed out at Arab League (search) Secretary-General Amr Moussa for failing to recognize the interim government's authority and said the council would not send representatives to the Cairo-based organization, the region's most important political body.
"We don't want to go where we are not welcome," council member Naseer Kamel al-Chaderchi told Qatar's al-Jazeera television.
Moussa, in a television interview from the United Nations, stood by his assessment of the Council, saying it was "a step in the right direction" but not representative of the Iraqi people.
"We want them [the Americans] also to know that this is an abnormal situation and cannot continue in this way," Moussa said. It was not clear if he knew of the council's decision to boycott the Arab League.
Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite Muslim and chief spokesman for the Islamic Dawa Party, will serve as council president for August. The Islamic Dawa Party was once based in neighboring Iran.
The council began functioning July 13 and said its first order of business was selection of a president. But, unable to agree on putting that much power in the hands of any one of the 25 council members, it finally decided Tuesday to share the responsibility among nine of them.
"The council is made up of different political parties, with different agendas, different ethnic groups. There was no agreement among the members as to the agenda of any one party or among the varying ethnic groups," said Adel Nouri, a senior member of the Kurdistan Islamic Union Party (search).
A spokesman for the Iraqi National Accord, Nouri Al-Badran, said that 20 of the council's 25 members had voted in favor of the nine-person rotating chief executive.
"The council is a large body and the presidential committee will represent all sections of Iraqi society," he said.
L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq who shepherded the council into existence through weeks of intense negotiations, attended the council session Wednesday, a day after returning from Washington for consultations.
The council decision came a day after, an audiotape attributed to Saddam said it was "good news" that his sons Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed in a July 22 shootout with U.S. forces because they now were martyrs. The tape appeared to erase any remaining doubt among Iraqis that the feared brothers were dead.
An official of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday the tape appeared to be authentic.
In northern Iraq, U.S. military officials said they have found evidence that non-Iraqi fighters are among guerrillas attacking Americans. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were finding rocket-propelled grenades wired to timers, a weapon used against coalition forces by insurgents in Afghanistan.
Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist organization and remnants of the Taliban are believed responsible for the continued attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
But it was unclear what role the foreigners were playing in the insurgency that has killed 49 American soldiers since May 1, when U.S. President George W. Bush declared major combat over.
In Saddam's hometown, Tikrit, the American military continued questioning suspects and poring over documents and photo albums seized in a raid Tuesday, looking for clues to Saddam's whereabouts.
Soldiers interrogated one of Saddam's main bodyguards, his Tikrit security chief and a militia leader, believed to be behind attacks on U.S. troops, said Maj. Bryan Luke. The captives were not forthcoming.
"Every time we ask them a question, we get a different answer," Luke said. "They're not cooperating."
U.S. forces in both the Mosul and Tikrit regions have intensified the search for Saddam who is believed changing locations frequently.
"It would not be a good idea for him to be stationary for very long," said Lt. Col. Ted Martin, 42, of Jacksonville Beach, Florida. "Every time a helicopter flies over, I bet they shake," the 4th Infantry Division operations officer told The Associated Press in Tikrit.
World Bank President James Wolfensohn, meantime, said the lending institution still must decide what constitutes a legally recognized government before it can lend money to Iraq.
"Clearly a constitution and an elected government would constitute a recognized government, but what do we do in the meantime?" he told a news conference. "It's a subject that needs interpretation."
Wolfensohn, who is in Baghdad to discuss the World Bank's lending role as Iraq reconstructs, met with members of the Governing Council.