Impasse ends over Iraqi Cabinet

Prime minister-designate announces agreement on makeup

lawmaker is slain

April 28, 2005|By Liz Sly | Liz Sly,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq's political leaders agreed yesterday on the composition of a new government, marking a significant step toward ending nearly three months of political bickering that has undermined much of the good will generated by Iraq's historic democratic election in January.

Announcing the breakthrough, Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari said he would not release names until the Cabinet is unveiled today to the National Assembly, where it will have to be approved by a majority of the 275 legislators.

The long-awaited news was clouded by the assassination in Baghdad of one of the delegates to the assembly, the first killing of a legislator since the election results were announced in February. Lamia Abed Khadouri al-Sakri, a representative of Ayad Allawi's Iraqi alliance, was fatally shot at her home in the Biqoon neighborhood by gunmen who knocked at her door and then opened fire.

Al-Jaafari said he had presented the names to Iraq's three-member presidency council for approval, considered a formality, ahead of the announcement to the assembly. The presidency council comprises Iraq's president, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, and two vice presidents, a Shiite and a Sunni Arab.

The assembly's endorsement is also almost certain because al-Jaafari's Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, holds a narrow majority of seats in the legislature and because the Kurds, who hold 70 seats, negotiated the deal in partnership with al-Jaafari.

But last-minute objections by Shiite legislators to some of the Sunni chosen by al-Jaafari suggested that further wrangling might yet defer the government's final approval, more than 12 weeks since Iraqis braved insurgent violence to cast ballots in the election.

Al-Jaafari attributed the long delay in forming the government to his efforts to reach out to other communities, including Allawi's group as well as the once-dominant Sunni minority whose boycott of the election left the community with little representation in the assembly.

"This government could have been concluded in a week by the two major groups, but it was our commitment and desire to see an inclusive government," he said.

The government will be broadly representative of all the country's sects and religions, al-Jaafari promised, with posts going to Shiites, Kurds, Sunni, Christians and Turkmen. Seven of the ministers will be women, he said.

Unconfirmed reports from Iraqi legislators and news media said the Shiites would take 17 ministries, the Kurds eight, the Sunni six, and the Christian and Turkmen minorities one each. Allawi's Iraqi group will not be represented, Shiite officials said, after intensive negotiations to offer him representation in the Cabinet collapsed. Instead, Allawi is expected to take on the role of opposition leader in the assembly.

If the government is approved, al-Jaafari will be officially appointed as Iraq's first democratically elected prime minister in more than half a century. He has until May 7 to win the assembly's approval, after which a new candidate will be given a chance.

Whenever it comes, the installation of a government will be greeted with a sigh of relief by many Iraqis, who have watched with dismay as their elected leaders have been reduced to battling one another for the most prestigious jobs while the insurgency worsens and reconstruction falters.

The proposed Cabinet's structure reflects the bitter haggling, much of it nakedly sectarian, that preceded the agreement.

The new government will have three deputy prime ministers, one each for the Shiites, Kurds and Sunni. There are currently two deputy prime ministers, but a third was added to end infighting over the two posts between the three sects.

Al-Jaafari said he might consider adding a fourth deputy prime minister, depending on how the list is received by the assembly, suggesting the names on his list could yet change.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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