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Iraq: New Government Remains Close To Power Base Of Old Governing Council

The new prime minister, Iyad Allawi Iraq's new leaders have formed a government that includes new heads for many ministries. But like the president and prime minister, those in charge of the most powerful ministries are people closely linked to the outgoing U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

Prague, 2 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- In announcing his new government yesterday, Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi cast it as a new beginning for Iraq on its "march toward sovereignty and democracy."

"After 35 years of ruthless tyrannical regime and after the liberation of Iraq by the coalition forces under the leadership of the United states, we are starting now our march toward sovereignty and democracy and establishing an interim government in Iraq during this critical junction in the history of the nation," Allawi said.

Allawi -- a former political exile with close ties to Washington -- has made his new beginning by sweeping away most of the ministers appointed by the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC).

The U.S. daily "The Christian Science Monitor" reported that Allawi "wasted little time in stamping his imprint on the new government, sacking 17 of 26 ministers" from their current posts.

The housecleaning -- whose motives Allawi did not explain publicly -- gives the incoming administration a very different look than that of its predecessor. Under the U.S. plan for transferring political power in Iraq, the new interim government was to take office on 30 June. But the Governing Council has said it will immediately disband, leaving it unclear for now who will exercise power as the Iraqi leadership in the meantime.

Among the new ministry heads are some who fit the profile of the kind of nonpartisan technocrats the United Nations previously said should make up a new, broad-based interim government. The UN's special envoy for Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, said he would look for technocrats when he agreed to help form the new caretaker administration in consultation with Iraqi leaders, the UN, and the United States.
"I think that the question now remains whether those people can deliver or not." -- Mustafa Alani, a regional expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London

Allawi appointed technocrats to head several of Iraq's less sensitive ministries, including Oil, Electricity, Health, and Education.

But he gave the leadership of key ministries associated with security -- including Defense and Interior -- to appointees closely tied to political parties in the outgoing Governing Council.

Mustafa Alani, a regional expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London, says that the appointments to the power ministries assure that key decision-making in Iraq will continue to be dominated by the same people who dominated the Governing Council. The council was composed largely of narrowly based former exile political parties mixed with tribal leaders and some prominent politicians from the pre-Saddam Hussein era.

"There are some new faces -- for example, for the Oil Ministry. There are new faces for the Interior [Ministry], and a new face for Defense," Alani said. "But the majority of those people -- apart from the key Ministry of Oil, [Thamir Abbas al-Ghadhban], he is a technocrat and has nothing to do with any political group -- but the other key ministries like [the] Defense, Interior, and Foreign ministries, as well as the Finance [Ministry], are controlled by individuals who have links to one or another [former] exiled political group."

The Foreign Ministry remains under its previous leader, Hoshyar al-Zebari, who has become increasingly recognizable on the world stage due to his appearances at the UN. He is a senior member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party -- one of the two Iraqi-Kurd factions that control part of northern Iraq.

Britain's "Financial Times" daily today says the new heads of the ministries of defense and interior reflect "an alliance of tribal leaders and former governors...who will be dominated by Mr. Allawi and who will try to deal with Iraq's vicious security problems."

The new minister of defense, Hazim Shalan al-Khuza'i, was forced to leave Iraq in 1985 over his opposition to the Saddam Hussein regime. After the U.S.-led toppling of Hussein in 2003, he returned to Iraq and was appointed governor of Diwaniyah, a city in Shi'a-majority southern Iraq. Reuters reported yesterday that "he is little known to Iraqis and has kept a low political profile over the past year."

The new minister of the interior, Falah Hassan al-Naqib, is a former exile from a prominent military family in Iraq's Sunni-dominated center. After Hussein's overthrow, he was appointed governor of Salahaddin Province, which includes Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

The "Financial Times" also says the ministers of defense and interior "will be joined by at least one of the ministers without portfolio who is also a tribal leader and Iraq's new intelligence chief -- Mohammad Abdullah al-Shahwani -- a former helicopter pilot who is an Allawi appointee."

Analysts say the dominance of such key posts in the incoming government by people closely tied to former exile parties could assure that the new administration not only resembles the old Governing Council but also is plagued by some of its same problems.

Notable among those is the resentment Iraqis are widely reported to feel over the prominent role played by former exile parties under the U.S. occupation. Many Iraqis who did not flee Iraq charge the exile parties with profiting from the change of regime at the expense of those who suffered its daily abuses.

Such resentment has helped to fuel the ongoing armed insurrection led by Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The cleric welcomed Saddam Hussein's overthrow but refused to cooperate with the Governing Council, which he termed a U.S. puppet.

Alani says a major challenge for the leaders of the incoming government will be to win the popular support they failed to gain as leaders on the Governing Council.

"If we remember in the surveys done by the BBC and CNN and other institutions, the Governing Council was disapproved of by two-thirds of the population," Alani says. "And now we have the same old faces controlling the key positions in the new government. I think that the question now remains whether those people can deliver or not. They couldn't deliver in the last 10 months. The question is, why they will be able to deliver now?"

UN envoy Brahimi put the challenge succinctly at a news conference today in Baghdad: "Now that the government's composition has been announced, it is ultimately up to the Iraqi people to judge for themselves whether this is a good government, and how good it is. I believe that they will make up their minds about that on the basis of what the government does and says during the critical few months ahead."