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Breakthrough in Iraqi Government Talks

Prospects of national unity government raised by Allawi’s inclusion - but disputes over allocation of ministerial posts continue to dog negotiations.
By Daud Salman
The new Iraqi government will include the former prime minister Ayad Allawi, considered key to creation of a national unity administration, IWPR has been told.



Political leaders have remained tight-lipped about the negotiations over which political bloc will hold which ministerial post in the new cabinet.



But United Iraqi Alliance member Abbas al-Bayati confirmed to IWPR that the government will include Allawi and members of his Iraqi National List.



Iraqi National List member Mahdi al-Hafez also confirmed that Allawi will become secretary-general of the national security council, a 19-member committee of the country's top leaders that will oversee security and economic policy.



Allawi, a secularist whom outgoing prime minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari refused to include in the cabinet, is seen as a important figure in the formation of a national unity government. Kurdish, Sunni and secular politicians opposed Ja'fari's renomination as prime minister because he wanted a cabinet that excluded Allawi, and they feared that his Shia United Iraqi Alliance would dominate the administration as it has for the past year.



Ja'fari gave up his renomination for the premiership and was replaced by fellow Da'wa party and United Iraqi Alliance leader Nouri al-Maliki on April 22. Maliki has promised to form the government by May 10.



Hafez said Maliki has proven "more flexible than the previous government" in negotiations.



"Maliki confirmed that he supports a national unity government that takes representation based on election [results] into consideration," he said.



The United Iraqi Alliance, the leading bloc in parliament, is lobbying to hold 15 of the 33 ministerial posts, said Bayati. The alliance holds 128 of the 275 seats in parliament and wants slates to be given ministerial posts based on how many seats each won in the December 2005 election.



"The new government will face major challenges," maintained Bayati.



Of Iraq's many problems, including poor services and mass corruption, the biggest challenge will be security.



Officials say that about 3,000 Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia, have been killed since the February 22, 2006 bombing of the Shia mosque in Samarra, while approximately 100,000 are now internally displaced.



Intellectuals and professionals have been targeted in abductions and assassinations and are increasingly fleeing the country.



While many lists have more faith in Maliki, the shadows of Ja'fari's outgoing government are still influencing negotiations.



Sunni Arabs claim they have been persecuted by Shia-led Iraqi security forces and their Shia militia allies under Ja'fari's watch, but the United Iraqi Alliance appears intent on maintaining Shia control of defence and interior ministry posts, especially since the insurgency is largely led by Sunni Arab groups.



The Sunni Arab list, the Iraqi Accord Front, supports Maliki's call to dissolve the militias - which are believed to be responsible for much of the violence in the capital - and integrate them into the government's security forces, but it wants control of the interior ministry.



Salam al-Zawbai, an Iraqi lawmaker and member of the Iraqi Accord Front, says he wants an end to both “ violence and murder in the country” and the marginalisation of non-Shia parties in government, “like what happened under Ja’fari”.



Mahmood Osman, a top Kurdish lawmaker, said the ministries of defence and interior "should be run by strong and neutral patriots. The security agenda is the top priority".



Reflecting the views of many here, Sa'aud Omar, a 48-year-old businessman in the al-Karkh district of Baghdad, said "the problem of the armed militias is a time bomb sitting in front of the government".



Omar expressed concern that ministerial posts are primarily being given to slates based on their ethnicity and religious orientation. While Sunni and Shia Arab lists want to control security ministries, the Kurds are lobbying for at least seven posts, including the foreign ministry.



Even the Turkmen, who hold only one seat in parliament, are demanding two ministerial posts, saying they represent a sizeable minority that deserves a voice in a national unity government.



The posts "will be distributed according to disgusting sectarian quota” with no involvement of competent, experienced technocrats, said Omar.



Sa'adun Ali, a professor of political science at al-Nahrain University, agreed. The new cabinet, he said, could end up more sectarian than the former Shia-led government while functioning "under the guise of a national unity government".



Daud Salman is an IWPR trainee journalist in Baghdad.

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