Shake-up in Iraq to be limited

Al-Maliki reforms will not affect key Cabinet posts

December 20, 2006|By Borzou Daragahi | Borzou Daragahi,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A long-awaited Iraqi government shake-up meant to sharpen an executive branch derided as ineffective and adrift won't touch key security and economic Cabinet positions, top Iraqi officials said yesterday.

Though his nation is ravaged by violence and poverty, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will only include a dozen relatively minor ministry posts in his reshuffle plan, including the heads of health, transportation, culture, women's affairs and tourism, his deputies and inner circle said in telephone interviews and media outlets.

No changes will be made any time soon at the key security and economic ministries of defense, interior, foreign affairs, finance and oil.

"The security dilemma is not an issue of ministries," said Abbas Bayati, a member of al-Maliki's Shiite Muslim coalition. "The issue is beyond the government and ministries. The real challenge is to find reconciliation and political understanding. It's not possible to accuse the security ministries of poor performance."

Word of the plan emerged amid swirling lawlessness throughout the country that left at least 68 Iraqis and two U.S. troops reported dead yesterday in shootings, bombings and sectarian death-squad killings. Crooks made off with nearly $1 million in government money.

Given Iraq's dire daily state, some Iraqi politicians said they were shocked by the limited nature of al-Maliki's reforms.

"I'm astonished," said independent lawmaker Mithal Alusi. "Do we have a problem in tourism so we need to change the minister of tourism? Or do we have a security problem? Or do we have economic problems?"

Al-Maliki's spokesman said removing any of the most high-profile ministers would be politically difficult. Both defense and interior ministers were arrived at through a painstaking process of negotiation with all three major blocs in the coalition government and can't be easily replaced.

"It is the will of the prime minister to reshuffle as much as he can," said Ali Dabbagh, the main government spokesman. "But it's also the decision of the other blocs in the parliament."

Government insiders predicted the first changes would begin next month. Some of the ministers said to be on their way out are loyalists of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who controls a 30-some-seat bloc in parliament as well as the health and transportation ministries. But officials said the shake-up was in no way an attempt to isolate al-Sadr.

Under Iraq's power-sharing agreements, al-Sadr will likely get to nominate replacements for departing ministries.

Meanwhile Iraq's torrent of violence continued.

A suicide car bomber slammed into a police checkpoint in Baghdad today, killing seven people and injuring 27, police said. Three policemen were among those killed, and seven were among the injured.

At least half a dozen other explosions were heard, some in the area of the Green Zone, where Iraq's parliament and the U.S. and British embassies are based. The U.S. military said it had no information on the blasts.

Yesterday in central Baghdad, robbers made off with about $890,000 in Iraqi cash meant to pay salaries of government workers. The central Baghdad heist took place as a group of employees were leaving a bank with the money.

Among those assassinated or found dead yesterday were the coach of the national bicycling team, a former Olympic wrestling star and a well-known television actor.

Two U.S. troops were reported killed. A Marine died in combat Monday in Al Anbar province. A soldier died Monday when his Bradley Fighting Vehicle rolled over during a bomb clearance mission north of the capital. Another American soldier was injured in the accident. At least 2,950 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the beginning of the March 2003 invasion.

A bomb explosion near a group of cigarette vendors in southeastern Baghdad killed two and injured nine.

Authorities in the violence-racked city of Baqubah, a provincial capital 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, reported finding the bodies of 10 men and two women. Several of the victims had their throats slashed.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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