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Iraqi Cabinet Gets Mixed Reviews

Many believe emerging political structure will ensure freedom and growth, while hardliners dismiss it.

Iraqis have voiced a wide range of views on the new interim cabinet, with some condemning it as illegitimate and others hopeful that it will deliver stability and jobs.

On September 3, Iraq's interim Governing Council appointed 25 ministers to set up the country's new government.

For the first time in the history of the modern Iraqi state, all the major ethnic and religious groups are working together in government. Prominent positions were given to the country's three main groups: the interior minister is a Shia Arab, the justice minister a Sunni Arab, and the foreign minister a Kurd.

Mahdi Ali, 37, a Shia and a teacher from Baghdad, says the new cabinet is "the most important turning point in the history of Iraq". He believes that "fair distribution of ministries between the country's various ethnic and religious groups will rid the country of discrimination and oppression".

He looks forward to the day when Iraqis can hold elections and choose their own president.

Despite the current lack of security and infrastructure problems, Mahdi thinks that there is progress - conditions are getting better day by day.

His optimism is shared by Rebaz Ali, 25, a Kurdish university student. Under Saddam Hussein, he says, his community could not express itself freely, "We even did not dare say we were Kurds." But under the new cabinet, Kurds will feel free wherever they are in Iraq, "We are going to achieve what we have been struggling for over the past 30 years," he added.

Others are hostile to the cabinet, and to the principles behind it. "We absolutely disagree," said Mahzan Muhammad, 30, a grocery store owner in Tikrit, the town from which the former president Saddam Hussein comes. He sees the new cabinet members as American appointees, "I will never recognise them as legitimate representatives of the Iraqis."

Mahzan's views are echoed by Maha Jamal, a Sunni Arab housewife who lives in Baghdad. "Neither the Iraqi people nor the outside world would recognise them as legitimate representatives," she said. She dislikes the new cabinet members as much as she does the Governing Council, seeing them all as opportunists from Iraqi opposition parties overseas.

As soon as the Americans leave, "the people will start assassinating them and removing them from power", she told IWPR.

Mahzan thinks that since the war and the establishment of the new cabinet, "everything has become worse".

But others are enthusiastic about the new appointments, because the ministries may generate jobs which will improve the economy - a major concern for most Iraqis.

Abbas Abid, 27, is certain that the new cabinet will provide equal job opportunities. He is an unmarried casual labourer from Baghdad, who has applied for a position with the police force. He says that with an initial salary of 60 US dollars per month "it will be a very good start for me".

He says that under Saddam's regime, only members of the ruling Ba'ath party had decent employment opportunities, "Nepotism was widespread."

Salaries of the police and other civil service workers are now many times more than they were under the old regime. Abbas's starting pay would have been three to five US dollars just a few months ago.

Alaa Salam, a resident of Kadhimiya, a Shia district of Baghdad, now earns 120 dollars a month, compared with five dollars under the old regime. If salaries remain high under the new government, Salam said, "I am sure that this will help the country to get rid of corruption and move to a prosperous and secure future."

Many believe Iraq's new rulers should root out Saddam supporters. Baghdad teacher Mahdi is unhappy that so many jobs are available to former loyalists. "These wide job opportunities will help the Ba'athists go back to their old places and commit crimes," he said.

"This government should not employ Ba'athists again, or allow them to do what they have done in the past."

He also thinks that the new government should take charge of putting Iraqi war criminals on trial. "We keep hearing the Americans saying they have arrested a senior member of Saddam's regime," said Mahdi. "But nobody knows their whereabouts or what happens to them."

He echoes the feelings of other Iraqis who suffered at the hands of the old regime, "The new government should ask the Americans to bring the former regime's war criminals to justice inside Iraq, not abroad."

Yerevan Adham is a freelance journalist/translator based in Baghdad.

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