Partial Cabinet ready in Iraq

Premier waits on defense, interior


BAGHDAD,Iraq -- Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Nouri Maliki said yesterday that he will present his Cabinet to Parliament today, but he acknowledged that it will not include appointees for the key ministries that oversee the military and the police.

Sunni Arab politicians who are a minority in the 275-member Parliament had threatened earlier yesterday to withhold their votes for at least some of the Cabinet ministers whom Maliki will name today. Maliki, a Shiite, responded by saying he would present his government but withhold his choices for defense and interior ministers.

A Maliki spokesman predicted that the omission would lead to some dissent but not enough to keep the Council of Representatives from approving more than 30 other Cabinet members, two days ahead of a constitutional deadline for forming a government.

Maliki said he would name the heads of the two ministries as soon as possible and the jobs would be given to candidates "who will be well-known as independents, honest, not loyal to any militia or the equivalent."

But late into the evening yesterday, parties representing Iraq's minority Sunni population refused to say whether they would agree to that arrangement. They complained not only about the defense and interior positions but that they would receive only three or four of as many as 36 ministry appointments Maliki is expected to make today.

"This is a very fluid situation," said one leader allied with the main Sunni bloc, who asked not to be named because he said he feared reprisals. "I would like to be optimistic, but I am not one of those self-deluding people."

The leaders of several Sunni blocs met yesterday to plan what to do next. One said it was likely they would oppose the formation of a government that did not include a defense minister, a post the Sunnis expected to hold. Another, in contrast, said he would support the Maliki government. By late yesterday, the top leaders were giving curt answers or refusing to pick up their phones.

James Rainey writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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