by RAY FLEMING
l IT has taken Iraqi politicians two months since the parliamentary elections to choose the person to head the government in the next stage of the country's democratic progress. Members of the largest group, the Shia-led United Iraqi Alliance, which has a majority in the parliament, chose Ibrahim Jaafari by one vote as the prime minister of the country's first permanent government since the Anglo/US invasion. Mr Jaafari was prime minister in the pre-election interim administration and thus might seem a natural choice for the future. However his selection has apparently not pleased the American and British representatives in Iraq because he has earned a reputation as a man who enjoys prolonged consulations and finds it difficult to make decisions. It seems likely therefore that negotiations on the formation of a new coalition government and the appointment of ministers are likely to take at least two months. In his acceptance speech Mr Jaafari gave an indication of the compexity of his task: “The Iraqi process is as big as Iraq, so it is the duty of all Iraqis to build the new Iraqi house. This process will move ahead on the security situation, on services, on the economy and reconstruction, on political performance internally and externally.” However, the “new Iraqi house” may take a long while to build because the election showed only too clearly that its future inhabitants share very little indeed in terms of religious affiliation or economic priorities. Shia Muslims, Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Christians voted in line with ethnic identity and secular parties got nowhere. A particular prpoblem facing Mr Jaafari is that of the country's constitution which was approved by a national vote last year, but with strong Sunni opposition. The Sunni participation in the recent parliamentary election was conditional on assurances by the Shias that changes could be made to the constitution by the new parliament. Mr Jaafari may find it difficult to deliver on those assurances and if he fails to do so he may also fail to bring the Sunnis into the mainstream of future Iraqi politics, a prospect that would put a question mark over the possibility of ever building that “new Iraqi house”.