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Contender for Iraqi Leadership Foresees Vote within Coalition

By James Glanz

The New York Times -- BAGHDAD, Iraq

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, one of two Shiite leaders locked in a struggle to be named Iraq’s prime minister, made a surprise appearance on Thursday at a ceremony to certify the makeup of the new national assembly and said the contest for the top spot could come down to a showdown vote within his own coalition in the next two to three days.

As expected, that coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, received a narrow majority of the seats in the 275-member assembly when Iraq’s election commission officially certified the election results at the low-key ceremony, held in a cavernous and mostly empty auditorium. But a scrum of reporters and cameras quickly surrounded al-Jaafari, when he appeared to one side of the room after the results had been given.

Al-Jaafari, a cautious politician who is closely allied with his party’s religious leaders, responded to a question about whether he believed that Ahmad Chalabi, the secular and mercurial former exile, posed a serious challenge to al-Jaafari’s bid to become prime minister.

“This is the curse of democracy,” al-Jaafari said in English, with a tight smile. “It’s open.”

“Till now the result is yet not complete,” he said. “I think they need probably two or three days to negotiate.”

If negotiations do not succeed, he said, the coalition will choose between the two in a new vote.

Although the United Iraqi Alliance received 48.19 percent of the popular vote, the complicated mathematics of the election gave it 140 seats, two more than needed for a simple majority. The Kurdistan Alliance won 75 seats and a list led by the current prime minister, Ayad Allawi, received 40 seats. Nine parties divided the remaining 20 seats.

Ultimately, the winning candidate will still have to receive the support of the full National Assembly. First, a council consisting of a president and two deputies must be chosen by a two-thirds vote. Then the council must pick a prime minister. The minister and his Cabinet must then survive a confidence vote in the assembly by a simple majority.