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Iraq eyes new security body to curb Shi'ite power

Written by: Staff

BAGHDAD, Mar 20 (Reuters) An agreement by Iraqi leaders to set up a national Security Council reflects efforts to curb the power of Shi'ite Islamists and sidestep deadlock in talks on a unity government, political sources today said.

The council is likely to provide a platform for former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular figure popular in Washington, to take a lead in trying to stop Iraq sliding into civil war and may meet before a deal is reached on a national unity cabinet.

Indeed the council, whose creation was announced on Sunday, will be a powerful parallel administration, in overall control of security, the economy and all major policy decisions, reducing the influence of Shi'ite Islamists.

''The point of forming the Council was political compromise,'' a senior source in the Shi'ite Alliance bloc said. ''Some parties want to take decision making out of the hands of the majority.'' The Alliance's strength in parliament gives it a lock on the premiership. It is resisting pressure to drop Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and also rejects Sunni, Kurdish and US complaints about its controversial interior minister.

Several sources said that Allawi, who was premier in 2004 under US control, is a prime candidate to lead the Council.

''The job was created for him,'' a senior political source said. ''We have been discussing it for at least two months.'' President Jalal Talabani gave no details of the Council when he announced the general accord on its creation yesterday. But sources in various parties agreed on its overall design.

ALLAWI Allawi, a secular Shi'ite who plotted with U.S. intelligence against Saddam Hussein during his exile in London, ordered US military assaults on both Sunni and Shi'ite rebels in 2004.

Alliance leaders countered his well-funded and high-profile campaign for December's election by accusing Allawi of trying to establish himself as a strongman in the mould of Saddam. His Iraqi List bloc has 25 of parliament's 275 seats.

Allawi said on Sunday that the number of Iraqis killed each day showed the country was already embroiled in a civil war.

Another senior source said the head of the Council would be elected at the first meeting and chosen from its 19 members, who will include the president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker, all their deputies, and various party leaders.

Powerful regional leaders like the president of autonomous Kurdistan would also have a seat, the sources said.

It was not clear when the Council would first meet. When it does, it will also define its own rules of operation.

The constitution ratified last year does not provide for a Security Council and sources said some legislation may be required to give it weight. Even if its recommendations do not have the force of law, the powerful positions of its members mean its decisions will be carried out.

''Backed by the constitution or not, its recommendations will effectively be mandatory since it will be those who are running the country anyway who make them,'' one Alliance source said.

''We should, however, look for constitutional cover for its formation and we may do that by legislation,'' he added.

Technically, the Council would be a temporary body designed to help pull Iraq out of crisis, sources said, but it might be needed for a long time. One source said it would operate ''until political parties start trusting each other''.


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