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Iraq: Despite Reported Cabinet Deal, Some Parties Not Satisfied

  • Kathleen Ridolfo --> Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki could face problems holding his cabinet together (epa) PRAGUE, May 18, 2005 (RFE/RL) -- As leading Iraqi politicians announced this week that a deal on the cabinet was at hand, a number of political parties voiced their displeasure with the negotiations, saying sectarian politics were getting in the way of forming a national-unity government, signaling a possible setback in the talks. Under Iraqi law, Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki has until May 22 to announce his cabinet.

The news that an announcement on the cabinet was imminent came on May 17 when parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani told the Council of Representatives that he had received word that al-Maliki would present his cabinet to the parliament on May 20.

But Sunni and Shi'ite leaders representing various political blocs have said their parties were not satisfied with the cabinet posts allocated to them. While most complained that the cabinet was being formed along sectarian lines, in reality, most appeared more disgruntled over the quality of posts on offer. Nearly all of the parties criticizing the negotiations said they were offered what they considered low-profile ministries.

'Unfair' Offer

Hamid Majid Musa, secretary-general of the Iraqi Communist Party and a leading negotiator for the secular Shi'ite Iraqi National List, told reporters at a May 17 press briefing in Baghdad that his bloc was still in negotiations with the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA).

"Our list is still in dialogue with our brothers in the UIA over forming a national-unity government and we all hope that the negotiations will end with positive results," RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) quoted Musa as saying. "The list is moving forward based on a strong will to form a strong government as soon as possible, to uphold a national balance away from [sectarian] quotas and in order to respond to the will of the people in nominating the best-qualified people and offering the best expertise to this government," he added.

Musa described the posts offered to his list as "unfair," saying the positions would not give the bloc the opportunity to play an effective role in "saving the country from the crises and complications it has been facing."

Iraqi National List member Izzat al-Shahbandar told Al-Sharqiyah television that the communications, justice, human rights, and science and technology portfolios were offered to the bloc, the satellite news channel reported on May 17.

While Musa insisted that the list would not withdraw from the government should it fail to receive more high-level portfolios, al-Shahbandar said that the list would restrict its role to support in the National Assembly, rather than assume the ministerial posts offered to it. Citing unidentified list members, Al-Sharqiyah also reported that the bloc might withdraw from the government altogether, but that has not been independently verified.

Meanwhile, Sabah al-Sa'idi, spokesman for the Shi'ite party Al-Fadilah, repeated his claim that negotiators continue to nominate individuals "whose failure in the first stage [in previous governments] has been established," RFI reported. "The problem does not lie in assuming this or that ministry because we do not regard ministries as booty as some do by talking about getting a piece of the cake," al-Sa'idi said.

The party withdrew from the negotiations last week after other parties to the UIA rejected its bid for the Oil Ministry post. He called the sectarian tactics of more influential parties, "treachery against the poor people who elected those politicians." The more dominant parties still believe they can "impose their will" on smaller, less influential parties, he said.

Al-Sa'idi also complained of constant foreign interference in the distribution of posts, which he said influenced his party's decision to boycott the talks.

Sunni Arabs Express Disappointment

Sunni Arab leaders also expressed concern over what they called a sectarian-based negotiation process.

Salih al-Mutlaq, the head of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, told Al-Arabiyah television on May 17 that his bloc has withdrawn from the government to protest the sectarian distribution of ministerial posts.

Al-Mutlaq said that despite reports that negotiators are close to finalizing an agreement, huge differences remain. "We held discussions with our brothers in the Iraqi National List and the Iraqi Accordance Front. We made our decision today not to participate in the government on the basis of the current distribution of ministerial posts between the Shi'a, Sunnis, and Kurds," al-Mutlaq said.

He added that the sectarian allocation of portfolios posed a serious threat to Iraq's future. Al-Sharqiyah television quoted members of the front as saying that the front was offered the ministries of Environment, Women's Affairs, and National Dialogue. The members, who were not identified, described them as "secondary ministries."

Al-Mutlaq accused U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad of forcing the formation of a government of sectarian and ethnic quotas in a May 18 commentary published in the London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat." U.S. President George W. Bush "is today telling his people that he is pleased because the Iraqis formed a government representing all the components of the Iraqi people, which is completely untrue. The truth is that the U.S. administration managed to form a government along sectarian and ethnic bases, which [could] pave the way for igniting a civil war and for dividing and weakening Iraq," al-Mutlaq wrote.

"All we are asking for is to reconsider this [cabinet] configuration, which will not last long and which will lead the country to more massacres and strengthen the presence of terrorists, thus posing a threat to the region and the world," he added.

Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front spokesman Zafir al-Ani told Al-Jazeera television in a May 17 interview that negotiators from his bloc are not managing cabinet negotiations in a satisfactory manner. The negotiators' concern for their own personal interests have clouded their ability to properly negotiate, he added.

Given the "kind of ministerial portfolios offered to [the front], there is now a communal and group feeling that this deal is not a fair deal," he said. "The number and kind of portfolios offered to the front in no way lives up to the popular expectations of the constituencies of the Accordance Front regarding the need to extricate them from the catastrophic circumstances from which they are suffering."

The portfolios offered do not even meet the bloc's supporters' minimum expectations, al-Ani added. "I think that the way in which ministerial portfolios are being distributed in no way helps achieve political stability or civil peace."

The dissatisfaction expressed by parties marginalized in the negotiations is likely to have little impact on Nuri al-Maliki's ability to win approval for his cabinet. According to the constitution, the prime minister "is considered to have won confidence when his ministers are approved individually and his ministerial platform is approved by an absolute majority," or 138 of the 275 parliamentarians. Together, the UIA parliamentarians (without Al-Fadilah) and the Kurdistan Coalition could easily meet this requirement and push the cabinet through.

The problem will come after the cabinet is approved. Should the marginalized parties refuse the posts offered to them and resign, al-Maliki would be left with an incomplete cabinet, and more critically, a sectarian, rather than national-unity government.
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