Factions jostle for power in the new regime

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Iraqi politicians are jockeying for positions in a new interim government that will take charge of the country - at least formally - once the US hands over sovereignty at the end of next month.

With less than a fortnight to go until the UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi names the 30 or so ministers who will make up the body, an intense power play is taking place involving various factions to determine who will hold influence in the new Iraq.

Reports suggest that while the Shia are aiming to fill the bulk of the seats in the government, Kurdish groups are seeking to have a Kurd appointed as either the prime minister or president of the new body, which will officially hold power until elections next January. The Bush administration, meanwhile, is working equally hard to ensure that Ahmed Chalabi, its former ally who is now out of favour, is sidelined.

"Brahimi is starting to close in on the choices," one Bush administration official told The New York Times. "But he doesn't have just three or four positions to play with. He's got a larger structure to identify. The trick will be not letting all these politics overwhelm the effectiveness of the government that is chosen."

Mr Brahimi is in Baghdad drawing up a list of names that will include a president, a prime minister, two vice-presidents and 26 ministers. It was hoped his task would be completed before the end of May but it is likely he will require another week or two.

The 70-year-old has held daily meetings with Iraqi political, religious and civic leaders, including the oil minister, Ibrahim Mohammad Bahr al- Ulloum, the central bank chief, Sinan al-Chebibi, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party leader, Massoud Barzani. Rports suggest that Mr Brahimi has circulated the name of Dr Mahdi al-Hafidh, currently the planning minister, as a possible prime minister.

Other reports name Adel Abdel Mehdi, a leading Shia Islamist who has support of the Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

"There's still a lot of manoeuvring going on," said Mr Brahimi's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi.

One politician said to be favoured by Robert Blackwill, President Bush's envoy to Iraq, is Adnan Pachachi, 80, a former Iraqi foreign minister.