Reshuffling of Iraqi Cabinet considered

Interior minister among those who might be replaced

September 07, 2006|By Solomon Moore | Solomon Moore,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, IRAQ -- Less than three months after completing appointments to Iraq's Cabinet, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite Muslim alliance is discussing changes at several top ministries, including a move to replace the head of the troubled Interior Ministry.

That agency runs police forces that are widely thought to be infiltrated by militia members and to be involved in hundreds of killings by suspected death squads.

"The ministries included by the reshuffle have not been finalized yet," al-Maliki said during a recent interview on an Arab satellite television channel. "The number might increase or decrease. I don't want to state the names, but until now we have three ministries. In addition, there are discussions about two other ministries. We don't want to break into the issue before creating an agreement between the ministers' political slates."

Several U.S. and Iraqi officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said discussions have focused on whether to replace Interior Minister Jawad Bolani.

In June, after months of delay and debate between political parties and religious sects, al-Maliki named Bolani, a Shiite engineer and army veteran with no police experience, to the post. At the time, U.S. officials deemed Bolani's selection a breakthrough on grounds that with his nonpartisan, nonsectarian background, he could rein in thousands of militiamen within the police forces.

U.S. officials acknowledge that those perceived strengths might have left Bolani vulnerable to attacks by partisans opposed to his reform efforts in the ministry.

In addition, some Iraqi politicians complain that he has been an ineffective leader who has done too little to root out corruption within his forces or to quell sectarian violence.

"As for the Interior Ministry, I think that both its performance and that of the Defense Ministry are not up to the standard we aspire to," said Nasir Saidi, a member of the movement led by militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Despite questions about Bolani's performance, U.S. officials said they have been pleased with his leadership. They have praised his recent actions against police officers found to have criminal records and his efforts to block infiltration of his forces by Shiite militias, which have been accused of carrying out torture, kidnappings and assassinations.

"The minister has fired 1,775 personnel in his first 60 days," said Army Maj. General Joseph Peterson, the top U.S. adviser to Bolani. "That's more than any previous minister, and that's a pretty good sign that within his vision and his strategy he's going after corruption, whether that be extortion, whether that be sectarianism. He's going against those things that are contrary to the unity of Iraq and law and order."

Peterson also noted Bolani's actions on behalf of a Babel province police chief who was fired by the local council because he refused to hire a local battalion of the Badr Brigade, a powerful Shiite militia that has members in the police force.

But a midlevel Iraqi police official with knowledge of the Interior Ministry leadership and police operations said Bolani has failed to directly challenge militia leaders inside the agency.

Meanwhile yesterday, the Iraqi parliament met for the second time since taking a summer break and voted to allow oil imports to bridge shortfalls in the state-owned oil sector, which holds some of the largest petroleum reserves in the world.

At least 22 bodies were found in the Baghdad area yesterday. Most of the victims had been handcuffed, blindfolded, shot in the head and dumped near predominantly Shiite areas. Other violence around the country killed at least 24 people.

Solomon Moore writes for Los Angeles Times.

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