BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Iraq’s ruling Shi’ite alliance is expected to nominate Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi for prime minister of the first full-term government since the fall of Saddam Hussein, a senior alliance official said on Saturday.
The United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) is likely to name Abdul Mahdi as its candidate for the top job in government in talks on Saturday after struggling to agree on someone for weeks.
“Abdul Mahdi is the favoured candidate. We will meet this morning to decide,” said the alliance official.
As the party with the biggest bloc in parliament after winning 128 of the 275 seats, the alliance will be asked by the next president to name a prime minister, to be approved by a simple parliamentary majority, under the Iraqi constitution.
Abdul Mahdi, a former finance minister, is a top official in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a group which was exiled in Iran and is now headed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, seen as the most powerful man in the alliance.
The talks, which were scheduled for 1000 (0700 GMT), were delayed because the group led by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the alliance did not arrive, alliance officials said.
Sadr, a former rebel leader turned political kingmaker, is opposed to nominating a candidate from SCIRI because he and Hakim are rivals, said the officials.
If Abdul Mahdi is confirmed as the alliance’s choice, it could alleviate concerns over delays in the formation of a new government.
Formal negotiations have not started nearly two months after Dec. 15 elections and judging by talks after a poll in January last year, the process could take months in a country which has grown tired of political squabbling as violence rages.
The official said the alliance still faces obstacles, mainly finding a job for current Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, whose Dawa party heads the alliance along with the SCIRI.
Born in Baghdad in 1942, Abdul Mahdi began his career as a political activist, leading to torture, a death sentence and years of exile in France, where he studied in Paris.
He was repeatedly jailed for opposition activities in the 1960s, before the Iraqi government stripped him of his job and passport in 1969, a year after the Baath party took power, ushering in decades of dominance by Saddam Hussein.
An economist, he has earned a reputation as a pragmatic consensus builder who has skilfully helped Iraq’s politicians overcome heated issues. Whether he could display the charisma that Iraqis say Jaafari lacks is an open question.
Jaafari’s critics say he failed in the fight against insurgency. Arab Sunnis accuse his Shi’ite-run Interior Ministry of sanctioning death squads, a charge his government denies.
The battered economy of a major oil producer shows no signs of recovering from a Sunni guerrilla campaign that has killed many thousands of Iraqi security forces and civilians.