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Iraqi Parliament Approves Partial Cabinet

Prime Minister-designate al-Ja'fari announcing the formation of his cabinet yesterday 28 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's parliament approved a partial cabinet today under the leadership of Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, all but finalizing Iraq's first democratically elected government in more than 50 years and ending three months of political deadlock.

Al-Ja'fari submitted a broad-based cabinet proposal yesterday that included members of Iraq's main Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish factions.

Still, Iraq appears to be falling behind schedule in its transfer of political power.

Although the cabinet is approved, some disagreements remain. Several of Iraq's 36 ministries will be occupied by acting ministers until final posts are decided.

Moreover, agreements have yet to be made about the defense, oil, human rights, and electricity portfolios.

Yahia Said, a researcher on Iraq and other transitional nations at the London School of Economics, said those are key ministries with enormous political significance.

"Obviously the Ministry of Oil and the Ministry of Electricity are lucrative ministries," Said said. "They offer opportunities for enrichment and control and patronage. In the case of the Ministry of Defense, the controversy is over who should be on it. And there are many in the [Shi'a-dominated] United Iraqi Alliance who don't want to see any ex-Ba'athist in any of these positions."

Al-Ja'fari himself will be acting defense minister, a position that was supposed to go to a Sunni Arab. The Interior Ministry post, considered essential to security, went to Bayan Jabbor, a Shi'ite.

In a controversial posting, Ahmad Chalabi, a former Pentagon favorite from al-Ja'fari's Shiite-dominated alliance, will be one of four deputy prime ministers and acting oil minister.

Said said there is nothing extraordinary in Chalabi's coming back to the political scene and becoming an influential figure in Iraq once again.

"He is the deputy prime minister for the economy and a member of his group is the minister of finance," Said said. "And probably, if there are no big changes in the Ministry of Oil and in the Central Bank then Chalabi and his group -- the Iraqi National Congress -- will have firm control over the economy."

Before the war, Chalabi headed the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an Iraqi exile group that provided intelligence -- some of which turned out to be misleading -- to the United States on Saddam's weapons programs.

Said said that although the politician has lost favor with the Americans, he was one of the main architects of the United Iraqi Alliance and is appreciated for that role.

The cabinet is due to last only until December, when new elections -- based on a constitution to be written by the fall -- are to take place. The new cabinet must help guide the writing of the document. Some National Assembly members have said the delay in forming a cabinet might ultimately put the constitution timetable in peril. The first draft of the document was due to be finished by 15 August.

The months of political wrangling have crippled efforts to end violence and are also hindering the power transfer process.

Speaking yesterday, however, al-Ja'fari said the delay in forming the cabinet was normal.

"We took this long because we wanted to establish a strong government that can sort out all of the problems facing this country," al-Ja'fari said. "We know we're in a bad situation and that this is the first experiment in Iraq's political history. There are a lot of groups here, and that is why we gave it so much time. We held meetings right up until [27 April] to try and bring opinions closer together."

Said said, however, that there are real fears that the schedule of forming a legitimate Iraqi government is falling apart.

"The schedule is slipping. The schedule was challenging as it is, and now we have a three-months' delay, which is definitely not something anyone can afford," Said said. "But the worst thing is that this haggling, these unseemly delays -- especially when they are motivated by sort of narrow party, and ethnic interests, rather than real political differences -- reduces the legitimacy of the new government."

Said said legitimacy is the element most needed to bring an end to the Iraqi insurgency.

A formal handover between al-Ja'fari and outgoing Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is expected to take place within days.