Many view Shiite political leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search) as a cleric in a business suit. He is now in the spotlight as his chances grow to win the nomination to be Iraq's first prime minister.

Members of the United Iraqi Alliance (search) agreed Wednesday to hold a secret ballot, most likely on Friday, to choose between Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Ahmad Chalabi (search). Al-Jaafari spoke to The Associated Press this week:

AP: What are the issues at the top of your agenda?

Al-Jaafari: Security is at the top, then improving the standards of social services and all pressing elements on the Iraqi people.

We need to elevate people's standard of living so it is compatible with the country's resources, which God almighty rewarded Iraq with.

Of course people should understand that such great ambitions — and fears which we will work on eliminating — will take time. But the people must feel an improvement in the security situation and the standards of social services.

AP: Would you call for the withdrawal of the multinational troops from Iraq?

Al-Jaafari: We have to look into the reasons why the multinational troops remain in Iraq, and not only Iraq, but in many regions around the world; the troops are present in a certain country when the breaches in the security situation are greater than the capacity of the security apparatus in that country to handle it.

It is true that if the multinational forces are in Iraq, it is a weakness and not a point of strength as it means that security is not up to the level needed in the country. However, treating such a weakness shouldn't lead us to committing a bigger mistake by calling for the troops' withdrawal at this time. There are security challenges, there are breaches, assassinations and explosions.

Despite the fact that the multinational troops are in Iraq, blood is spilled, the land is under attack, how would it be if these troops left?

When we are able to improve Iraq's security, it will be normal then to ask for the withdrawal of the multinational troops from Iraq.

AP: Do you believe that Islam should be the main source or the only source for legislation? What is your position on civil liberties?

Al-Jaafari: The constitution should reflect, like a clear mirror, the Iraqi fabric.

Iraqis agree on common ideas, such as respecting peoples' various beliefs, civil liberties, endorsing elections as the way to select authorities, preserving the state sovereignty, respecting human rights, respecting women and integrating them into political life.

The great majority of Iraqis are Muslim, it is normal that we should care about their sensibilities by making Islam the official religion of the state and making it one of the main sources for legislation along with other sources, without harming the Muslims' sensibilities.

AP: You are a leader of a political party called Dawa, which calls for the Islamization of the society and the state, isn't this a contradiction?

Al-Jaafari: We believe that theory is not the goal, but the goal is the human being, and as long as the human being is aware of the developments that are taking place, he will be flexible in developing the theory.

Witnessing the current experience in Iraq and how the society is open and diverse, it is normal that we reconsider our ideas in light of the new developments.

We deal with the other on the basis that the majority doesn't exclude the other but respects the other.

AP: What is your position of the banning of Baath Party members from the government?

Al-Jaafari: Evaluation of those who belonged to the Baath Party depends on the individual and his behavior and the powers he had when he was part of Baath Party. The mere belonging to the Baath Party, without committing any crime or holding a senior political post, is a different issue, especially since there are many Iraqis who were forced to join the Baath Party.

AP: How would you encourage Sunni participation in the coming elections? How would you comment on the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars labeling the incoming government as "illegitimate?"

Al-Jaafari: Legitimacy can't be granted to anybody, it is a reality. There are people who voted in the elections despite the tough conditions.

I respect the other's points of views but this is legitimacy and the government (which will be formed) doesn't come under the umbrella of the occupation or a government under a United Nations mandate.

For those who didn't participate in the elections this time, the coming government will open the door for them to help build the new Iraqi state.

AP: What is your position of federalism?

Al-Jaafari: When we talk about federalism in principle, it doesn't mean that we call for separation.

The successive past regimes which ruled Iraq created fears and worries because of not only undermining calls for federalism, but also suppressing the sons of the provinces. Therefore (those who call for federalism) are not only attracted to the idea but also they fear the central government.

In other words, most of the calls for federalism are just reactions to the past oppression.

Now, if the central government was able to create justice and to preserve the rights of the sons of the provinces, not to discriminate against different races, many of those fears will evaporate.

AP: You once said that Iraq will not turn into a playground for some to fight Washington.

Al-Jaafari: No country in the world will be permitted to turn Iraq into a front line for confrontation with America or any others.

AP: Why have you always been suspected of having links to Iran?

Al-Jaafari: This is just a widespread, mistaken belief.

The Dawa Party (search) was established in 1957 before any Islamic revolution.

It was normal after the mass executions (of Dawa Party leaders) for the party to leave Iraq. So some went to Syria and others to Iran or other Arab countries while some remained inside Iraq. Since then, coordination between the group members in different countries was launched. That is all! However, the group in Syria was accused of being loyal to Syria, the group in Iran was accused of having links to Iran.

An Iraqi remains an Iraqi all his life, wherever he goes.