Iraq's interim PM gets to work amid confusion over how he was chosen

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The Independent Online

Iyad Allawi, Iraq's newly nominated interim prime minister, set about forming a government team yesterday amid international astonishment and local scepticism at how his appointment came about.

Names of appointees spilled out in Baghdad yesterday, with Adnan Pachachi - like Mr Allawi a member of the outgoing Iraqi Governing Council - tipped as interim President. But the confusion that surrounded Mr Allawi's nomination on Friday by the American-appointed IGC continued, with one senior official in the US occupation authority in Baghdad calling him "just a nominee", even though the White House and the United Nations have endorsed him.

The UN envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, asked by Washington to help set up an interim government to take over from US rule after 30 June, seemed to have been completely taken aback by the way the 23-member IGC announced its choice. The US administration was also caught on the hop by the speed of the announcement. But as a long-time exile in the pay of the CIA, previously associated with MI6, Mr Allawi was always a strong candidate in Washington, and US officials were clearly involved in steering the choice.

An American official in Baghdad said he could not confirm Mr Allawi's appointment, stressing that he had yet to be formally named as prime minister-designate by Mr Brahimi. "He's just a nominee," he said. "We're waiting for the formal announcement from Brahimi." However, a spokesman for Mr Brahimi, who has yet to appear in public in Baghdad since the announcement, said the UN would work with Mr Allawi to form a government.

The plan is to appoint a president, two vice-presidents and 26 cabinet ministers to represent Iraq's various religious and ethnic communities. Mr Allawi is a secular Muslim from the Shia majority. The president is expected to be a Sunni and to have a Shia and a Kurd as deputies.

Ordinary Iraqis know little of a man who has spent more than 30 years abroad, first as a medical student in Britain supporting Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party and later as a wealthy exile who founded the Iraqi National Accord with funds from the Central Intelligence Agency. He survived an assassination attempt by Saddam Hussein's agents at his home in Kingston-upon-Thames near London.

Although the main task of the interim government is to organise elections in January, Mr Allawi is on record as expressing scepticism, warning of the huge difficulties of installing democracy in Iraq when there is little tradition of free voting in the Middle East. He has been a strong supporter of rebuilding an Iraqi army and building up other internal forces to restore order.

In Washington, meanwhile, President George Bush, who unveiled a monument to Second World War soldiers on the Mall, evoked the sacrifices of the Allied campaign against Hitler during his weekly radio speech, in which he pledged to stay the course in the far more contentious war in Iraq.

Because of America's sacrifices in the Second World War, "fascism and Nazism were vanquished and freedom prevailed", said Mr Bush, adding that in Iraq, "our mission continues, and we will see it through to victory".

Using similar language to describe the war against Hitler and that against Saddam Hussein, Bush said the "war on terror" and the invasion of Iraq were part of efforts to defend freedom.

* Four US special forces were killed in action in Afghanistan in the middle of a stubborn Taliban-led insurgency, the US military said today. They died yesterday in Zabul province, about 240 miles southwest of Kabul.