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Iraq: New Cabinet To Be Sworn In Tomorrow

Iraq's first post-Saddam Hussein cabinet is expected to be sworn in tomorrow in Baghdad. The 25-member cabinet was named yesterday by the Iraqi Governing Council. The cabinet appointments are divided among the country's various ethnic and religious communities.

Prague, 2 September 2003 (RFE/RL) --- Iraq's Governing Council has named the 25 members of the country's new cabinet.

Ministerial positions are divided among the country's various ethnic and religious communities and mirror the makeup of the Governing Council itself. Thirteen ministries are going to Shi'a Muslims, five to Sunnis, five to Kurds, one to a Turkoman, and one to an Assyrian Christian.

A spokesman for Iraq's U.S.-led administration said the appointment of the ministers -- announced yesterday -- "represents a significant new step in Iraqis taking control of government and institutions of government."

Reuters reports the cabinet will be sworn in tomorrow in Baghdad. Today's funeral in Al-Najaf for slain Shi'a cleric Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim apparently postponed the ceremony, which had been expected to take place today.

Reports say Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) officials want the new cabinet to reflect Iraq's diverse ethnic, religious, and social mix, without a quota system that could become entrenched.

The new cabinet -- 24 men and one woman -- has no prime minister. It will report to the U.S.-approved Iraqi Governing Council. Overall authority in Iraq remains with U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer until an elected government takes power in Iraq. According to CPA officials, elections are expected to be held in Iraq next year at the earliest, after the adoption of a new constitution.

Bremer spoke about the new cabinet at a press conference in Baghdad today: "The Governing Council took another step on the path to Iraqi sovereignty. They appointed new ministers who serve at the pleasure of the Governing Council. They will run the ministries, the day-to-day business of government is in their hands."

Neil Partrick is an analyst with the Middle East and Africa section of the Economist Intelligence Unit in London. He believes the appointment of the new Iraqi cabinet marks the beginning of self-rule structures in Iraq.

"The ministers are supposed to give expression to the idea that the Governing Council -- the interim Iraqi authority -- will begin to take on more powers and responsibilities," Partrick said. "This, obviously, is not going to be a process where overnight, for example, a minister of oil will be making all the decisions affecting all policy. So I think in practice it's a matter of appointing individuals who will represent the expression of the desire for the Iraqis to take more responsibilities, but the modalities of that will have to be worked out in the weeks and months ahead."

The new ministers will oversee the day-to-day running of their departments, while major policy decisions will be taken in consultation with the U.S.-led authority and the Governing Council.

The key post of oil minister goes to Shi'ite Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, who will be charged with rehabilitating the country's oil facilities and increasing exports.

The post of interior minister will be held by another Shi'ite, Nuri al-Badran, who will be tasked with the gradual takeover of security matters from U.S.-led forces.

The foreign affairs portfolio went to a Kurd, Hoshyar Zebari, while finance went to a Sunni, Kamil Mubdir al-Kaylani.

Partrick believes the cabinet will also have a say in the formation of Iraq's national budget.

"At this stage, it is proposed that the Governing Council -- and through them, the cabinet -- will draw up the budget for next year," he said. "The current budget has already been decided, although, of course, it will be affected and shaped by the ability to raise additional monies. But in practice, the Coalition Authority will have a strong role, as well."

In Baghdad today, Bremer spoke about the role of the cabinet and the way forward in Iraq: "The path ahead to full Iraqi sovereignty is clear and visible -- first, a constitutional convention, or some similar mechanism to write a new, permanent constitution for Iraq. Second, that constitution will be submitted to the Iraqi people for approval in a referendum. And third, Iraqis will then hold elections which will produce a fully sovereign Iraqi government. Working with the Governing Council and cabinet, I pledge the coalition's close support and assistance as we move together down this path."

While the U.S. sees the Governing Council and the new cabinet as the first steps toward the goal of transforming Iraq into a peaceful democracy, many Iraqis are more concerned with the lack of security and believe that should be the first goal of the new authorities.

Some analysts say the composition of the new Iraqi cabinet might be a step toward a weak, communal-based state alien to Iraqi tradition. Others argue that it is a reasonable solution in the absence of democratic alternatives following three decades of Ba'athist repression.

The Arab League welcomed the appointment of the cabinet as a further step toward Iraqi self-rule. Speaking in Cairo, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Mussa called it a "step in the right direction."