Salih al-Mutlaq, the head of the Sunni-led Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, led the walkout of some 15 representatives, saying al-Maliki had violated the constitution by presenting an incomplete cabinet.
Indeed, al-Maliki was unable to negotiate the appointment of three key portfolios, and opted to delay the appointment of ministers to the Interior, Defense, and National Security ministries. He told parliament on May 20 that for the time being, he would oversee the Interior Ministry, while Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zawba'i would oversee the Defense Ministry and Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih would oversee the National Security Ministry.
Not Entering Government At Any Price
Al-Mutlaq had earlier complained about the United Iraqi Alliance's (UIA) offer of three cabinet posts to his party, which won 11 parliament seats in the December elections, saying that the ministries offered -- Women's Affairs, Environment, and National Dialogue -- were "secondary" posts.
More damning was al-Mutlaq's contention that the Shi'ite-led UIA had demanded that his party change its political platform in order to join the government. Al-Mutlaq said the UIA twice demanded a written pledge from him indicating that he would change platform. "We will not pay this price to enter the government," he told reporters at a May 20 press briefing in Baghdad.
Same Old Faces
The composition of the cabinet appears strikingly similar to previous cabinets. Ministerial posts by and large were divided among political blocs to reflect the percentage of parliamentary seats won in the election: the UIA has 17 ministers (128 parliament seats); the Kurds six (53 seats); the Iraqi Accordance Front seven (44 seats); the Iraqi National List six (25 seats); the Kurdistan Islamic Union one (five seats); and the Islamic Action Organization one. As far as minorities are concerned, it appears that one minister is a Fayli (Shi'ite) Kurd, one minister is a Shi'ite Turkoman, and two ministers are Christians. Four of the 38 ministers are women.
Four ministers held their posts from the transitional government: Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Safa al-Din Muhammad al-Safi, Water Resources Minister Abd al-Latif Rashid, and Environment Minister Narmin Uthman.
In addition, three ministers from the transitional government were moved to new ministerial posts. Former Planning Minister Barham Salih is now deputy prime minister, while former Construction and Housing Minister Jasim Muhammad Ja'far is now the minister of youth and sports. Perhaps most controversially, former Interior Minister Bayan Jabr is now finance minister. "I am not sure if the person who was not able to preserve the blood of Muslims [as interior minister] can protect the funds of Muslims," Sunni parliamentarian Nasir al-Janabi commented.
Rifts Appearing In Parties, Blocs
There has also been speculation in the media lately about the solidity of parliamentary blocs. The Al-Fadilah Party pulled out of the negotiations over cabinet posts with other parties in the UIA two weeks ago, saying sectarian preferences, rather than qualifications, were dominating the talks.
This week, much of the focus has been on the Iraqi National List. Hamid Majid Musa, a leading member of the secularist Shi'ite bloc, denied on May 22 that there is a split within the coalition. "Our Iraqi National List is an expanded political coalition that brings together political parties, organizations, and figures. It is democratic in its nature and liberal in its composition. Hence, different viewpoints are freely expressed within this list.... What we have is a difference in individual judgment, ideas, and visions on the political performance. In our view, this is not a rift, but a healthy phenomenon that helps us remain on track and enhances the performance of the list," Musa told Al-Sharqiyah television.
Iraqi National List member Izzat al-Shabandar told the London-based newspaper "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on May 21 that rumors of a split within the list surfaced because it held out on its decision to participate in the government until minutes before the announcement of the cabinet, the daily reported on May 22. He said the list agreed to join the government when it was offered another portfolio.
Like al-Mutlaq, Al-Shabandar maintained that his list should have been allocated more cabinet posts. He also maintained that the UIA was more concerned during negotiations about satisfying the demands of parties within the UIA than it was in forming a national-unity government.
The UIA and the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front "have not abandoned their sectarian-based culture," he added. Al-Shabandar claimed that the new government has "no aspect of a national-unity government...except for the participation of the Iraqi National List."
Little Faith In New Government
For his part, Iraqi National List head Iyad Allawi has been less than optimistic over the ability of the new government to better serve the Iraqi people.
"There is no doubt that the new government...will be an extension of the former government and the operation is no more than just an operation of changing faces," Allawi told "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" in an interview published on May 20.
He contended that al-Maliki's government is likely to "fall short of its duties in many areas." "I believe it will take measures only after a certain period of time passes during which more funds, which are the property of the Iraqi people, have been squandered," he said.
Indeed, the new government faces a tough road ahead if it is to address the problems currently plaguing the country: a thriving insurgency and national resistance, a failed economy, massive corruption, a widening sectarian divide, and the unresolved disputes regarding the constitution, to name a few.
Some Iraqis already doubt al-Maliki's commitment to national unity. If he is to succeed in the next six months, which he has declared the most crucial of his administration, he will need to address the criticisms of those who claim to have been marginalized.