The two candidates insisted on a vote by the alliance’s 140 MPs, officials said.
After meeting for hours with Shi’ite cleric and politician Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, members of the United Iraqi Alliance agreed to hold a secret ballot to choose between two former exiles, Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Ahmad Chalabi. The vote is expected tomorrow.
Both candidates were expected to present their political agendas and priorities to alliance members before the vote.
The failure to reach a consensus revealed cracks within the coalition, which consists of 10 major parties backed by Shi’ite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. But Hayder al-Mousawi, Chalabi’s spokesman, denied there was a serious problem.
“No way is there a division inside the alliance. Everybody agreed on adhering to whatever results the internal elections will reach,” he said.
Al-Jaafari, a 58-year-old moderate Shi’ite Muslim who fled into London exile during a brutal crackdown by Saddam Hussein in 1980, said he wants a constitution that will draw not only on Islam.
“Islam should be the official religion of the country, and one of the main sources for legislation, along with other sources that do not harm Muslim sensibilities,” he said.
Al-Jaafari said that if he is confirmed as prime minister, he would first try to stymie the violence that has crippled the country’s recovery.
Chalabi, aged 58, leads the Iraqi National Congress and had close ties to the Pentagon before falling out of favour last year.
North of Baghdad yesterday, police found the bound, gagged bodies of eight Iraqis, mostly civilians who had worked at a US military base, in shallow graves. All had been shot in the back of the head.
Meanwhile, a video of kidnapped Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena has been released, showing the 56-year-old woman pleading for her life.
The video provided the first images of Ms Sgrena, a reporter for the communist daily Il Manifesto, since her kidnapping in Baghdad on February 4.