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    Middle East
     May 23, 2006
Iraq's cabinet falls short
By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS - It is a cabinet that was finally created five months after the parliamentary elections of December 2005. It is a cabinet that strangely tries to satisfy both the United States and Iran. And it is headed by a man who is a product of Shi'ite political Islam but it includes seculars, Christians, Kurds, Sunni Muslims and women.

The creation of a new Iraqi cabinet is the first piece of good news heard from Iraq in many months. The cabinet creation, which received parliamentary approval over the weekend, was actually better than many people expected because it manages to include


everybody: disgruntled Sunnis, ambitious Shi'ites and hardline Kurds.

New Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is now the first constitutional prime minister of Iraq since the revolutionaries toppled the Iraqi monarchy and murdered the royal family in 1958. Every cabinet since then has either been imposed by officers, or Saddam Hussein, or the Americans. Maliki is the first constitutional Shi'ite prime minister since Fadil al-Jamali, who had been appointed by King Faisal II, in 1953-1954.

The good news is the Sunnis stayed on, and managed to secure three important posts for their community, including Defense (acting), Higher Education and the Ministry of State for Foreign Affairs, which they had been demanding for some weeks, to handle their own affairs with the Sunni Arab community that surrounds them. This would mean that foreign relations would not be in the hands of the Shi'ite majority that is now in power.

This is the first wide-scale participation of Sunnis in high-profile government posts since the downfall of Saddam in 2003. They had boycotted the government in 2003, then been excluded from it then been persecuted - by Iraqi politicians who blamed them for all of Saddam's atrocities. The Americans, realizing that unless the Sunnis re-entered government life, to counter-balance the Shi'ites, Iraq would become a complete satellite state to neighboring Iran.

They reasoned that unless the Sunnis entered government and shouldered responsibility for security, the Sunni insurgency would never end. The Americans, through US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, pushed for a re-entry of the Sunnis, last December, into the political life of Iraq.

The US-backed former secular prime minister Iyad Allawi, who had also made some loud demands during the negotiating stage of the Maliki cabinet, was also appeased with four portfolios, which, nevertheless, are not as important as ones the Sunnis got. Allawi's National Iraqi List got the Ministry of Justice, Telecommunications, Human Rights and Science. Allawi had wanted Defense for his team, but his proposal was vetoed by the main Shi'ite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), Iran and rebel-cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Independent scientist Husayn al-Shahristani, who was a candidate for the premiership in 2005 and who had achieved fame for spending many years in Saddam's jails for refusing to create a nuclear bomb for him, becomes Minister of Oil.

The lion's share of the posts, however, went to the Iran-backed UIA, which controls the largest majority in parliament. Among the posts they received, in addition to the premiership, was that of Interior (much to the anger of the Sunnis), Youth, Culture, Commerce, Education, Electricity, Health and Finance. All of these posts had loudly been demanded by the UIA. With all of its members being products of political Islam, however, it is dangerous to give them so much power because with these portfolios, they can revolutionize Iraqi society, from top to bottom, and create a semi-theocracy in Baghdad.

This is particularly true because they now control cultural life, education - meaning all schools and curriculum, and youth. The two disputed posts in the Maliki government were those of Interior and Defense. The Sunnis wanted to change outgoing Interior minister Bayan Jabr, claiming that he had used the post during the past year to settle old scores with the Sunni community. Until the curtain fall, however, the UIA was insisting on keeping Jabr, but at the last moment Maliki appeased the Sunnis by removing Jabr and appointing him head of Finance.

In all, the Maliki cabinet included 37 names representing varying ends of the Iraqi political spectrum. [1]

Maliki's cabinet is incomplete because the final ministers of Interior and Defense have not yet been named. Maliki will hold Interior for a transition period. As long as he does this, the Sunnis are okay about it, but if he - meaning the UIA - gets the job permanently, the Sunnis would be upset and might even threaten to leave the cabinet, since they have been demanding for six months that the job must be given to an independent and not to a member of the UIA. The experience they had with Jabr is too recent to forget, and they believe that any member of the UIA would be as cruel as Jabr was.

The Sunnis are partially mollified with Dr Salam al-Zouba'i, their high-profile acting Minister of Defense. Zouba'i was born in Baghdad in 1958 - the year of the Iraqi revolution - and had studied agriculture at the University of Mosul, receiving his MA and PhD from Baghdad University. Although not a Ba'athist, he reached the prominent post of president of the Engineers' Syndicate in Anbar province in 1992-1994.

It is believed that the permanent ministers for Defense and Interior will be appointed within a week, or so Maliki promised. When Maliki was presenting his cabinet for a vote of confidence in parliament, 15 members of the Sunni community walked out when he said that his goal would be "to fight terrorism", in reference to the Sunni insurgency.

Many in the Sunni community support this insurgency, not when it targets fellow Iraqis, but when it targets Americans. Most of those who walked out belonged to the ex-Ba'athist National Dialogue Front of Sunni politician Salih al-Mutlak. Others, however, belonged to the Sunni religious Iraqi Accordance Front, which is represented in the cabinet with four ministers.

One of the Sunni deputies from the Front, Nur al-Din al-Hayali, held a press conference and responded to Maliki's pledge to combat terrorism saying, "The Front has reservations about the program of the government. We have reservations about the laws related to fighting terror, which do not distinguish between the resistance, which plays a heroic role for the sake of liberating Iraq, and acts of violence that all reject."

Later, Maliki's home in the province of Karbala was bombarded by unknown terrorists, believed to be the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda and its leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This was a clear first signal to Maliki to back down from trying to combat the Sunni insurgency. The attack was not intended to kill him - knowing that he would be in Baghdad, but wanted to send him a clear message.

Also this weekend, a bomb went off in Sadr City, where the UIA "kingmaker" Muqtada - who is an ally of Maliki - resides and reigns, killing 19 people and wounding 58.

The pan-Arab Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat surprisingly revealed, however, on Sunday, that Iran was not pleased with the Maliki government. Despite all attempts at influencing the cabinet creation, the newspaper said, through the Iranian Embassy in Iraq and through special envoys of the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that Maliki did not cave into Iranian demands, which included vetoing at least three of the proposed names, and the imposing of others.

Maliki is a member of the UIA who is influenced by Iran, but who does not take orders from Tehran. He is thus not an Iranian puppet, as some Western newspapers are saying. The same applied to his boss and predecessor, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Both had fled to Iran during Saddam's era, but both quickly left, to London and Damascus, so as not to be manipulated or directed by the mullahs of Tehran, preferring instead an independent profile for themselves and their branch of Da'wa Party.

It appears that Iran tried to order Maliki to appoint certain officers, but he turned them down. The newspaper added that the Iranian regime was "very upset" at the transferring of its trusted loyalist, Jabr from Interior to Finance. It added that Tehran "strongly opposes giving the Ministry of Defense to any Iraqi officer who had contributed to the war against Iran [the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988]".

Iran's official stance actually varied with regard to the cabinet. It welcomed the appointment of some ministers and strongly opposed others, like Justice Minister Hashem al-Shibli, who is an ally of Allawi - a secular who opposes Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs.

Amid mixed Iranian signals and warm Arab ones stand the Iraqi people themselves, who don't really know how to react to Maliki. They need a strong head at Interior who will have the will and way to clamp down on the death squads and restore some degree of normalcy to the Iraqi street.

Maliki gave them a Ministry of Human Rights, but how effective will this ministry be if the death squads continue to roam the streets of Iraq, killing an average of 35 Iraqis per day. Perhaps this will be the busiest of all in Maliki's cabinet, documenting the vast wasting of human life, and the gross suppression of human rights prevailing all over Iraq.

Perhaps they needed a "Minister for Combating Terrorism". Instead, Maliki has given them a Ministry of Tourism. And instead of a Ministry of Civil Society, Iraq needs a "Ministry of Reviving Iraqi Society". The country needs stability and normalcy: nobody, after all, would think of vacationing in a country where an average of 35 people are dying a day.

This is the real challenge facing Maliki.

Note
1)Nuri al-Maliki: Prime Minister - acting Minister of Interior. (Member of the al-Da'wa Party, part of the UIA).
2)Dr Barham Saleh: Deputy Prime Minister - acting Minister of National Security. (Kurdish Alliance).
3)Dr Salam al-Zouba'i: Deputy Prime Minister - acting Minister of Defense. (Iraqi Accordance Front - Sunni).
4)Dr Husayn Shahristani. Minister of Oil (Independent).
5)Bayan Jabr: Minister of Finance (UIA).
6)Hoshyar Zebari: Minister of Foreign Affairs. (Kurdish Alliance).
7)Hisham al-Shibli: Minister of Justice. Iraqi National List (Iyad Allawi).
8)Kareem Wahid: Minister of Electricity (UIA).
9)Ali al-Shummari: Minister of Health (UIA).
10)Khudayr al-Khuza'i: Minister of Education (UIA).
11)Abd Thiyab al-Ujayli: Minister of Higher Education (Accordance Front).
12)Dr Abdul-Falah al-Soudani: Minister of Commerce (UIA).
13)Fawzi al-Harriri: Minister of Industry (Kurdish Alliance).
14)Kareem Mehdi Saleh: Minister of Transportation.
15)Mohammed Tawfiq al-Allawi: Minister of Telecommunications. (Allawi).
16)Bayan Daza'i: Housing and Construction. (Kurdish Alliance).
17)Wejdan Michael: Minister of Human Rights (Allawi).
18)Dr Abdul-Samad Rahman Sultan: Minister of Immigration and the Displaced.
19)Dr Lu'ayy Sumaysem: Minister of State for Tourism and Antiquities (UIA).
20)Adel al-Asady: Minister of State for Civil Society Affairs (Islamic Work Association - Shi'ite).
21)Rafe' al-Issawi: Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Accordance).
22)Safae al-Safi: Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs.
23)Dr Saed al-Hashemi: Minister of State for Governorates (Accordance).
24)Faten Abdul-Rahman Mahmud: Minister of State for Women's Affairs.
25)Akram al-Hakim: Minister of State for National Dialogue (UIA).
26)Ali Baban: Minister of Planning (Kurdish Alliance).
27)Riyad Ghrayyeb: Minister of Municipality Affairs.
28)Latif Rashid: Minister of State for Maritime Resources (Kurdish Alliance).
29)Mahmud Jawad: Minister of Labor and Social Affairs.
30)Raed Fihmi Jahed: Minister of Science and Technology (Allawi).
31)Yaroud al-Abbudi: Minister of Agriculture.
32)Asaad al-Hashemi: Minister of Culture (UIA).
33) Jassem Mohammad Jaafar: Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs (UIA).
34) Nermeen Othman: Minister of Environment. (Kurdish Alliance).
35) Mohammad al-Uraybi: Minister of State (Allawi).
36) Ali Mohammad Ahmad: Minister of State.
37)Hasan Radi al-Sari. Minster of State.

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.

(Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing .)


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