Iraqi with MI6 links is new prime minister

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The Independent Online

A former Iraqi opposition leader believed to have close links with MI6 and other Western intelligence agencies was yesterday named as Iraq's new interim Prime Minister.

A former Iraqi opposition leader believed to have close links with MI6 and other Western intelligence agencies was yesterday named as Iraq's new interim Prime Minister.

Iyad Allawi will head an interim Iraqi government that will take power on 30 June, when the United States-led occupation forces plan to hand over sovereignty, and is set to take Iraq to elections scheduled for next year.

It will be Dr Allawi's job to head an interim administration that is supposed to convince Iraqis, and the outside world, that the occupation is over even as thousands of American soldiers remain on Iraqi soil. The Bush administration is facing accusations that the handover is cosmetic - designed to make it appear the occupation is over ahead of November's US presidential elections. Washington has made it clear it has every intention of keeping its forces in Iraq, and wants them to remain under American command and be outside the jurisdiction of the interim government.

Dr Allawi will face the delicate task of negotiating with American commanders on the status of forces who will in all likelihood be out of his government's control. If he is to be successful, he will have to convince sceptical Iraqis that his interim government has some real sovereignty.

In a surprise development, Dr Allawi was named as the new prime minister not by the United Nations' envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, who has been holding talks on nominating the new government, but by the outgoing Iraqi Governing Council (IGC).

There was confusion as the Americans initially announced the council's nomination only amounted to suggesting a possible candidate for the job, and that the final decision would still be Mr Brahimi's. But Mr Brahimi's spokesman said last night he never intended to nominate the prime minister himself.

"Mr Brahimi welcomes the decision to nominate Dr Allawi," Ahmad Fawzi, his spokesman, said. "We were not invited to appoint the government. Now that it has been identified, we welcome the choice.

"We will be working with the prime minister-designate to appoint a cabinet, two vice-presidents and a president."

The decision to let the council nominate the prime minister may backfire: the IGC, which was set up by the US to give a veneer of Iraqi involvement in the occupation administration, has proved highly unpopular, with its members denounced as collaborators. Dr Allawi is a member of the council.

It emerged yesterday that the son of another council member and two Japanese journalists had been killed in two separate ambushes in the Sunni town of Mahmudiya.

Salama al-Khafaji, one of three women on the governing council, was attacked as she was returning from Najaf on Thursday where she was involved in negotiations to end fighting between US forces and the militia of the radical Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr. Her 18-year-old son went missing in the attack. His body was recovered yesterday. At least one bodyguard also died in the attack. Ms Khafaji said she was attacked by Saddam loyalists, but there was a claim of responsibility on an Islamist website in the name of a group believed to be led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an ally of Osama bin Laden who is in Iraq.

Two Japanese freelance journalists went missing in a separate ambush in Mahmudiya on Thursday. Their bodies were recovered in the town yesterday. They had presumably been returning from Najaf. The only road linking the city to Baghdad runs through Mahmudiya.

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