BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi Governing Council members accused American officials Monday of pressuring them to accept Washington's choice for Iraq's new president, prompting a delay in the announcement of a new government to take power from the U.S.-led coalition June 30.
U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (search) had hoped to complete the selection of the 26-member Cabinet by Monday. However, a Governing Council session that was to have chosen a president was postponed until at least Tuesday, with sharp differences remaining between the council and the coalition over the largely ceremonial head of state job.
"I hope it will be taken tomorrow," Governing Council spokesman Hameed al-Kafaei said of the choice of president. "But then again, there is no sacred date and it could take another day or two."
Most council members favor civil engineer Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer (search), 45, the current council president. The Americans are backing former foreign minister Adnan Pachachi (search), 81. Both are Sunni Muslims.
Two council members said other candidates may be put forward to break the deadlock.
In what U.S. authorities called an effort to prevent the handover of power, insurgents detonated a car bomb Monday near coalition headquarters, killing four people and wounding 25. Four American soldiers were reported killed in other attacks.
The U.S.-run coalition maintains ultimate authority in Iraq, but the Americans must decide whether they want to risk a major breach with their Iraqi allies at a sensitive period as Washington prepares to hand control of a still-unstable, war-ravaged country to an untested leadership.
Coalition spokesman Dan Senor insisted the Americans have not shown a preference for Pachachi, a claim that many council members dismissed as untrue.
"We in the council have agreed that Sheik Ghazi al-Yawer should be the president of Iraq," council member and prominent Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani told Al-Arabiya television. "But if the coalition has a different opinion, then they must come and explain to the council. There is a near consensus in the council that Sheik Ghazi is the better-suited man for the job."
Asked what the council would do if the Americans refuse to budge, Talabani said he had great respect for Pachachi "but we will not accept an imposition."
Although most Cabinet posts have been filled, no agreement can be announced until a decision on the presidency. The new government will serve until national elections by Jan. 31.
President Bush, facing election in November, must ensure that Iraqi politicians who take power next month are supportive of American goals in Iraq.
With more than 800 U.S. military dead since the Iraq war began in March 2003, Washington is eager to see a government that can tackle the security crisis, including a year-old Sunni revolt in Baghdad and areas north and west of the capital and a Shiite uprising to the south.
The next Iraqi government must negotiate the legal basis under which the 135,000 American troops and other coalition forces will remain here under a sovereign Iraqi government.
Council sources said that the Americans warned that if the members went ahead and voted for al-Yawer, the United States might not recognize the choice.
Al-Kafaei, the council spokesman, suggested that the American pressure was not producing results.
"Those who support Pachachi still support him and those who support Sheik Ghazi Ajil al-Yawer still support him," al-Kafaei told Associated Press Television News. "I don't think any pressure will produce results."
The coalition-backed Baghdad daily Al-Sabah reported Monday that al-Yawer had turned down a request by Iraq's U.S. governor L. Paul Bremer to take himself out of the running. Al-Yawer insisted that the selection must be made by the council, the newspaper said.
There was no independent confirmation of the report, but another council member, Sondul Chapouka, complained that she and most other members were not involved in the process of choosing a president. She told APTN that Bremer has told the council that other candidates beside Pachachi and al-Yawer were now in the running.
Younadem Kana, an Assyrian Christian member of the Governing Council, said he too has learned from coalition officials that other candidates were being considered to break the deadlock, but did not know who they were.
"We must have a bigger role in these deliberations," said Chapouka, an ethnic Turk from the northern city of Kirkuk. "We must be part of the process. ... As a government we should know who are the persons taking these posts."
The tough stand by Bremer in support of Pachachi was unexpected because the presidency will be a figurehead post and the Americans had signaled they were primarily interested in approving the choice for prime minister — a job that went Friday to Iyad Allawi, a U.S.-backed Shiite Muslim.
Pachachi was instrumental in overseeing the drafting of an interim constitution that U.S. officials have hailed as among the most progressive and democratic in the Arab world. The document was adopted despite reservations by Shiite council members and over the objections by the country's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani.
Pachachi, who fled to the United Arab Emirates after Saddam's Baath Party seized power in 1968, is well connected within the United States, United Nations and pro-U.S. nations of the Persian Gulf.
During a recent television interview, al-Yawer, who routinely wears traditional Arab robes and head gear, has been sharply critical of the American occupation, blaming U.S. ineptness for the deteriorating law and order. Al-Yawer also has denounced violence against American and other coalition forces.
Al-Yawer, a graduate of the Petroleum and Minerals University in Saudi Arabia and of Georgetown University, is a prominent member of the Shammar tribe, one of the largest in the Gulf region that includes Shiite clans. He enjoys the support of Shiite and Kurdish council members.
Pachachi, whose family has been prominent in Iraqi politics for more than a half century, has said foreign troops must remain in Iraq until the violence is quelled and the army and police are fully prepared to protect the nation.