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Kurds settle on candidate to be Iraq’s president, clearing way for vote

Iraq’s Kurdish political bloc settled late Wednesday on a veteran politician from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan to be its nominee to be Iraq’s next president, a decision that seemed likely to clear the way for his election to the office Thursday.

Fouad Massoum had been one of three Kurds vying for the office in a field that on Wednesday had been winnowed to 41 from 103 a day earlier. His nomination as the sole Kurdish candidate was announced by a television station loyal to Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s current president.

Earlier Wednesday, Parliament agreed to a 24-hour postponement of the presidential selection process to give the Kurdish bloc time to agree on a single candidate. The presidency traditionally has been reserved for a Kurd.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan had nominated two candidates for the top post: Massoum and Barham Saleh, a former prime minister of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government. A third PUK politician, Najimaldin Karim, the governor of Kirkuk, which Kurds seized last month, nominated himself.

The Parliament’s decision to give the Kurds more time to pick a candidate, paradoxically, may be a glimmer of hope in a country that appears to be coming apart and where a return to civil war could be just around the corner.

By agreeing to a single candidate, the Kurdish political bloc may be signaling that it is willing to remain inside a unified Iraq after weeks of talk about independence. If Massoum wins the presidency by the required two-thirds majority, his first task will be to save the state and prevent it from splintering into Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite Muslim statelets.

After the selection of the president, the Parliament must tackle appointing a prime minister, who will then name a government. The current prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, is considered a divisive force by many but has pledged to run again and controls the largest single bloc of votes.

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