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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
all, the Maliki cabinet included 37 names
representing varying ends of the Iraqi political
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.