Iraq’s new government was sworn in this week, following months of political haggling, against a backdrop of insurgence that has killed hundreds of Iraqis over the past week.
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and 29 cabinet minister took the oath of office, including 16 Shi’ites, 8 Kurds, 4 Sunnis, and 1 Christian. But two key portfolios – oil and defense – remained unfilled, with only caretaker appointments. According to a spokesman for Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar, the Sunni vice-president has for weeks led an effort to propose nominees for defense minister and Shi’ite leaders have rejected them all, saying they are too closely associated with Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party.
New York-based Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy, who writes a column for the London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, says many people in the larger region are concerned about whether the new Iraqi government can maintain sufficient security and stability to facilitate an eventual U.S. withdrawal.
Speaking with host Judith Latham on VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Ms. Eltahawy said she thinks the disagreements over the crucial oil and defense post do not auger well for Iraq’s future stability. Because these two posts are so pivotal to Iraq’s future security and financial stability, she suggested that they “go to the heart of the kind of Iraq” that is likely to emerge. Before the invasion and war, she said, Iraq was run to benefit the Sunnis to the detriment of other ethnic groups, and now the Sunni minority is trying to gain important strategic positions in the new cabinet.
Kurdish journalist Hiwa Osman of the London-based Institute of War and Peace Reporting said that both Sunni’s and Shi’ite liberals and secularists are underrepresented in the new cabinet and the Kurds, in fact, represent the “only liberal element” in the Iraqi government. According to Mr. Osman, the majority Islamist Shi’ites will try to impose an Islamist agenda on the constitution. He said he thinks it is a mistake for the controlling Shi’ite alliance to refuse to accept anyone in the cabinet with former connections to the Ba’ath Party, noting that “almost everybody” in Iraq had to become a member of the party during the Saddam regime.
Washington correspondent Khaled Dawoud of the Egyptian-based Al-Ahram daily newspaper described the Iraqi leadership as being under considerable outside pressure to conduct the swearing in ceremony this week although not all cabinet portfolios had been filled. But he noted that it is only a “temporary government” whose main purpose is to write the constitution and that new elections are to be held in December. Mr. Dawoud predicted that there would be more fights over the constitution’s stand on religion and on the relationships among Iraq’s different regions and ethnicities.
Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy said she thinks the Shi’ite and Kurdish leaders are probably trying to “curry favor” with the Sunni minority because they believe the insurgency is fueled by Sunni anger over their minority group status and by their fear of being marginalized. So the political rationale is to be able to point to cabinet positions occupied by Sunnis and to say that this is a new Iraq that, unlike the Saddam regime, does not exclude anyone along ethnic lines, regardless of whether they participated in the elections three months ago. But whether that strategy will bring about the desired results, according to journalists from the region, remains an open question.
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