Behind Iraqi Jockeying: Ideas

In Iraq, the political horse-trading is intense. Participants will be drinking gallons of tea in smoke-filled rooms as they jockey for key positions in the new government.

The dealmaking, of course, is about who gets the power. But it's also about the ideas and values that will shape Iraq's future - something Iraqis didn't hear much about in an election focused on turning out the vote and getting to a polling place and home again safely.

Though not a particularly transparent process, it does look to be competitive, which can only be good for Iraq's emerging democracy.

The competition of ideas broke into the open this week over the bid for the prime minister's job. That's the most powerful post in the new government, whose main task is to write an Iraqi constitution.

On Tuesday, the United Iraqi Alliance, the biggest winners in the Jan. 30 elections, put forward Ibrahim al-Jaafari as its candidate for prime minister. Mr. Jaafari represents a broad alliance of mostly Shiites, who make up 60 percent of Iraq's population. The alliance is backed by Islamic clerics who want their religion to be the foundation for Iraqi law.

Jaafari, a doctor who spent more than 20 years in exile in Iran and London, says he'll reach across ethnic lines and take a moderate position on the role of Islam. A modest man, the popular Jaafari supports an active role for women in government and society, and points out that his wife is a gynecologist and surgeon.

But Iyad Allawi, a Shiite who has been Iraq's interim prime minister for eight months, doesn't trust Jaafari's Islamic moderation. On Wednesday, Mr. Allawi said he would build a secular coalition to challenge Jaafari: "We believe in liberal Iraq and not Iraq governed by political Islamists."

With only 14 percent of the vote, it's a long shot for him to gain the two-thirds backing in the new national assembly needed for the premiership. He'd have to peel off secularists from Jaafari's alliance, and pick up support of minor parties and the Kurds - who came in second. The Kurds want to preserve as much of their autonomy as possible, and their primary focus is federalism.

The role of religion, of federalism, of other nations (like the US or Iran), and of the minority Sunnis - it's inspiring to see Iraqis grapple with big issues. They may not have put pen to paper yet, but it looks as if they're already working on their constitution.

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