Antonio Castaneda / Associated Press – 2005-04-04 23:34:11
BAGHDAD (April 3, 2005) — Last year, with Iraqi leaders deadlocked over the impending assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, Hajim al-Hassani ignored Sunni criticism and supported the United States.
On Sunday, the Iraqi industry minister and Arab Sunni stepped forward again, agreeing to take the job as Iraq’s parliament speaker after weeks of bickering over who would fill the job.
Lawmakers had been struggling to settle on one of the 17 Sunni Arabs in parliament for the speaker’s post. They wanted a Sunni in the job as a gesture toward the minority group believed to be the backbone of the country’s insurgency.
“We believe that Hajim al-Hassani is a balanced person who cares about the national interests rather than sectarian issues,” said Alaa al-Tu’ama, a member of the Shiite-led coalition.
After his election, al-Hassani told legislators to stay close to the people they represent.
“You should be part of the suffering of your people … who suffer from power outages and water shortages. Part of their suffering in facing terrorism,” al-Hassani said.
Critics say al-Hassani’s own ties to Iraq are marginal and claim that he has little clout to persuade Sunni communities to resist the insurgency. Al-Hassani lived much of his adult life in the United States.
Al-Hassani Approved Attack on Fallujah
The prelude to the assault on Fallujah pitted Iraq’s leaders between the city’s Sunni community and the US military. When the Iraqi Islamic Party, of which al-Hassani was a member, withdrew from the government to protest the attack, al-Hassani refused to resign his post as industry minister, costing him his position in the party.
Al-Hassani provided some much-needed, if limited, Sunni approval for the attack on Fallujah. He later helped direct humanitarian aid and reconstruction efforts in parts of the city that were heavily damaged in the assault.
His support may have stemmed from his earlier mediation in Fallujah in April 2004 that ended with a standoff between militants and U.S. forces. After US forces departed, insurgents quickly took over the city.
The Fallujah attack prompted other Sunni leaders to call for a boycott of the Jan. 30 elections, which contributed to the under-representation of Sunni Arab legislators in parliament. Sunnis make up 15 to 20 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people. Shiites make up 60 percent and Kurds are 20 percent.
As industry minister, al-Hassani tried to push through reforms to privatize sectors of the economy that had been dominated by the state for decades. However, the ongoing insurgency has stunted much of Iraq’s potential economic growth.
He received a doctorate in agriculture and research economics from the University of Connecticut in 1990 and a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska in 1982. He also ran an investment management firm in Los Angeles.
Before Saddam Hussein’s ouster, he was actively involved in the Iraqi exile community that worked for years to topple the dictator.
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