Iraqi PM race goes to a secret ballot

Top Shiite politicians failed to reach a consensus yesterday on their nominee for prime minister, shifting the two-man race to a secret ballot and exposing divisions in the winning alliance. In a chilling reminder of challenges facing the winner, a videotape showed a sobbing Italian hostage pleading for her life.

After hours of closed-door meetings, members of the United Iraqi Alliance agreed to hold a secret ballot to choose between Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Ahmad Chalabi, most likely on tomorrow, said Ali Hashim al-Youshaa, one of the alliance’s leaders.

The contrast between the two candidates is stark and reveals a division within the clergy-endorsed alliance, made up of 10 major political parties and various allied smaller groups.

Al-Jaafari, 58, is the leader of the religious Dawa Party, one of Iraq’s oldest parties, known for its popularity and close ties to Iran. Although al-Jaafari is a moderate, his party’s platform is conservative.

Chalabi, 58, who left Iraq as a teen, leads the Iraqi National Congress and had close ties to the Pentagon before falling out of favor last year after claims he passed intelligence information to Iran.

BEIRUT, Lebanon

Mourners rally at funeral of fmr PM

Mourners holding banners saying “Syria Out!” crowded around the flag-draped coffin of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and his family warned the pro-Damascus government to stay away yesterday as hundreds of thousands of people turned his funeral into a spontaneous rally against Syria.

Along the funeral route through downtown Beirut, the Lebanese flag was hung from balconies and pictures were posted of Hariri, who was assassinated Monday by a massive car bomb that also killed 16 others.

Angry mourners shouted insults at Syrian President Bashar Assad to “remove your dogs from Beirut” — a reference to Syrian intelligence agents, part of an overall contingent of 15,000 troops deployed here since 1976.

Suspicions over Syrian involvement in Hariri’s death further charged the atmosphere, and pressure mounted from abroad to find his killers, with Washington recalling its ambassador from Syria and the U.N. Security Council demanding justice.


Stocks decline despite Greenspan’s testimony

Stocks slumped yesterday as investors listened to Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s remarks about the economy and monetary policy before the Senate Banking Committee.

The Fed chairman struck a fairly positive tone about the economy as he delivered the Fed’s twice-a-year economic outlook to lawmakers. Greenspan told Congress the economy was continuing to expand at a respectable pace. Inflation, while not an immediate threat, remains something policy-makers must guard against, he said.

His remarks seemed to support the views of many economists that the Fed will likely continue to raise interest rates at a gradual pace. The dollar firmed against other currencies, gold declined and Treasuries weakened.


Bush warns of possible future terrorist attacks

Speaking with one voice, President Bush’s top intelligence and military officials said yesterday that terrorists are regrouping for possible new strikes against the United States.

They said the best defense was for Congress to approve the president’s military and anti-terror budget. But some in Congress, including prominent Republicans, were questioning some of that spending.

Offering few specifics on terror threats, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told a House hearing that the government could reasonably predict attacks would come from terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and other means.


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