BAGHDAD, Iraq – Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search), who was nominated Tuesday to become Iraq's prime minister, is the overwhelming favorite for the post. But the main opposition is not going down without a fight.
Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search) announced Wednesday he was forming a broad coalition to challenge the United Iraqi Alliance-backed front-runner for the top spot, a challenge to which al-Jaafari gives a friendly welcome.
"Mr. Allawi is one of the Iraqis, and he's my brother," al-Jaafari told FOX News in an exclusive interview.
Al-Jaafari said he is ready to team up with Allawi, asecular Shiite, regardless of who takes the reins.
Click here to watch the exclusive interview with Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
“He was in the government and he has to continue to share and we are together members in parliament and we have to work together hand [in] hand to save our country,” al-Jaafari told FOX News.
The haggling over the new government came against the backdrop of more violence. A car bomb killed two people and wounded 14 in the northern city of Mosul (search), and a U.S. soldier was killed in a separate bomb attack north of Baghdad, officials said.
Al-Jaafari has the backing of the Shiia's spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who says Iraq's new constitution must respect the country's Islamic identity.
When asked if he feared that al-Jaafari's alliance could impose Islamic rule, Allawi responded that he opposed the creation of any form of Islamic government.
"We are liberal powers and we believe in a liberal Iraq and not an Iraq governed by political Islamists. But as a person, he is an honorable man, fighter and a good brother," Allawi said.
But al-Jaafari told FOX News that religion would not dictate his agenda. "I am Shiia, but I am a human being, and the focus of my movement is about justice and human rights … for all Iraqis," he said.
Allawi would not provide specific details of his proposed coalition.
"There are other lists and other brothers in smaller lists which won the elections, and we are working with some of those lists to form a national Iraqi democratic coalition which believes in Iraq and its principles," Allawi said at a news conference, flanked by two interim ministers who are members of his secular party, The Iraqi List.
Kurdish parties have also weighed in with their own demands for top jobs, including the post of president.
Al-Jaafari is one of two interim vice presidents and leader of a religious party that fought Saddam Hussein.
Al-Jaafari told FOX News that if elected, he would not be influenced by neighboring countries that may or may not have nuclear weapons. "I'm from Iraq; I'm an Iraqi person.
"One thing that is a redline, we will never permit any of the neighboring countries to enter … to try to enter … or interrupt our sovereignty," he said.
In order to take the premiership, al-Jaafari must build a coalition to gain agreement from Kurds and others on the presidency and candidates for Cabinet posts before seeking the support of a majority of the National Assembly elected Jan. 30.
Al-Jaafari is "a man I can work with, but to discuss who will be the prime minister of Iraq, this still needs more time," Kurdish interim vice president Rowsch Nouri Shaways told reporters. "We aim to get high rank in the government institutions. We aim to get one of the top positions and we aim to participate in the Council of Ministers, suitable with our percentage in the elections."
Kurdish parties, which won 75 seats in the 275-seat national assembly, want Jalal Talabani, a secular Sunni Kurd and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, to be Iraq's next president.
The Shiite Muslim clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance won 140 seats, while Allawi's secular Shiite Iraqi List party won 40 seats. Nine other parties divided the remaining 20 seats.
According to the interim constitution adopted last year under the U.S. occupation, parliament must elect a president and two vice presidents by a two-thirds majority, or 182 seats. The three must then unanimously choose a prime minister subject to assembly approval.
There is no timetable for the assembly to convene, and al-Jaafari and his alliance must agree with other elected parties on who will fill the three posts and the Cabinet. Even then, the prime minister has a month to name his Cabinet before the assembly vote.
Al-Jaafari's selection on Tuesday came after former Washington ally Ahmad Chalabi (search) dropped out of the race following three days of round-the-clock bargaining. Al-Jaafari has been seen as having close ties to Iran's ruling clergy, though he denies any links to a government that President Bush has said is part of an "axis of evil."
For al-Jaafari, 58, to succeed, he'll have to meet conflicting demands from Kurds, Sunni Arabs and even Islamic hard-liners within his alliance
Iraq's secular Kurds and many Sunnis worry that al-Jaafari will try to impose his Dawa Party's (search) brand of conservative Islam on the country, particularly because the assembly will be charged with writing a new constitution.
Al-Jaafari told the AP last week that Islam should be the official religion of Iraq "and one of the main sources for legislation, along with other sources that do not harm Muslim sensibilities."
He skirted his party's official position, which explicitly urges the "Islamization" of Iraqi society and the state, including the implementation of Shariah, or Islamic law.
"Theory is different from practice," al-Jaafari said.
Allawi also asked Iraq's minority Sunnis, who mostly boycotted the elections, to play a role in the new government. Such a move could help deflate the insurgency, mostly believed to be made up of Sunni Arabs that once belonged to Saddam's Baath party.
"The missions ahead of us are very big, above all is achieving national unity by action and not only by saying, and the integration of the Iraqi sectors which didn't participate in the elections," Allawi said.
Allawi has staunchly opposed de-Baathification — the effort to rid the government and administration of former Baath Party members.
A soldier from the U.S. Task Force Liberty was killed Wednesday when assailants set off the bomb near Tuz, 105 miles north of Baghdad, the military said.
At least 1,485 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
The car bomb exploded in western Mosul, said Essam Youssef of the city's Jamhouri hospital. Its target was not immediately clear. Witnesses said no U.S. or Iraqi forces were in the area.
The U.S. military said two people were killed and 14 wounded in the attack.
Also in Mosul, U.S. soldiers shot and killed a civilian in a pickup truck who approached their convoy too closely to pass it, policeman Ahmed Rashid said. Weary of car bombs, most U.S. military vehicles carry signs warning drivers to keep away.
Al-Jaafari said if elected prime minister, he will not ask U.S. troops to leave Iraq just yet -- he said it must wait until Iraqis can depend on themselves for security.
“It is not a matter of time, it is a matter of condition,” he said.
FOX News' John Cookson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.