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Report from Baghdad:  Iraqis Have Mixed Reaction to New Cabinet - 2003-09-04

The Iraqi Governing Council that is to act as an interim administrator for the country has named the first cabinet since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Reaction to the Cabinet among Iraqis is mixed.

Iraq's ministerial cabinet was sworn in Wednesday and charged with restoring stability and prosperity to the war-torn country.

The 25-member Cabinet was appointed by the Governing Council, which was chosen by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority that has been administering the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Many of the ministers spent years in exile because of their opposition to Saddam Hussein. As a result, they are not well known to most Iraqis.

One such Iraqi is Hadeed Adel Sarik who runs a perfume shop in Baghdad's al-Mansour district. She says she does not trust the new ministers. "All of them, we don't know anything about them. They come from the foreigners. They come from America," she said.

Nevertheless, Ms. Hadeed hopes the new ministers will do something for the Iraqi people, who, she says, have suffered too much under Saddam Hussein and years of war.

Taghlib al-Waily is an architect working for an engineering firm in Baghdad. He has read the ministers' profiles in the newspapers and says he approves of them.

"I am very happy to see technocrats," he said. "And I noted that 40 to 50 percent of them are engineers, which shows they are skilled people, have got a lot of experience. And I hope that they will serve their country well."

Mr. al-Waily acknowledges that the ministers were not chosen by an elected government, but says this issue will take time to address. He says, if the Governing Council is rigorous, ministers who do not perform well will be replaced.

Majid al-Hassan is a civil engineer who now owns a pharmacy. He acknowledges that most Iraqis do not know the ministers, but believes they should be given a chance to prove themselves. He says appointing the first cabinet was the right move for now, because organizing democratic elections will take time.

"This is the first step of forming the government [as] required by the people," he said. "But electing a government, a president and so on right now is not correct. That should happen after we satisfy [ensure] the security of the people."

Some Iraqis reject this ministerial cabinet outright. A professor of Islamic law, Ahmed Hussein Dabbash, says he does not recognize the cabinet because it came from the Governing Council, which was chosen by foreigners.

Mr. Dabbash says the ministers are Iraqis, but they do not represent Iraqis inside Iraq, those who suffered during the wars and when Saddam Hussein was torturing people. These Iraqis, he says, came with American tanks, and were chosen over popular leaders who remained in Iraq during the Saddam Hussein era.

A professor of political science at Baghdad University, Jabber Ahmed Abdullah, says the Iraqi interim government should respond to this opposition by moving quickly to distance itself from the U.S.-led coalition.

"What should the Governing Council do is to make some separation between their authorities and the American authorities, between their decisions and the American decisions, in order to show to the citizens that we have Iraqi authority, we have Iraqi nationality," he said. "We are not implementing American orders."

All those interviewed agree that the first priority of the new government is to re-establish law and order. Architect Taghlib al-Waily says Baghdad's dangerous streets are a threat to everyone, including the country's fledgling leadership.

"People are afraid to walk in the streets," he said. "Baghdad is not safe. I just want to walk in the street without having the fear of somebody shooting at me or stealing my car."

Many Baghdad residents say security has deteriorated in recent months. They blame this on the thousands of criminals who were released from prison last year by the Saddam Hussein government.

Criminals are being arrested every day, but the Iraqi police, which is understaffed and under equipped, is hard-pressed to cope with the problem. And although coalition forces patrol the streets and respond to emergencies, they are pre-occupied foremost with rounding up remnants of the old regime, with halting the recent wave of terrorist bombings in Baghdad and Najaf, and with attacks on their own troops that occur dozens of times a day.

As a result, Iraqis believe the priority task for the new ministers will be to press for a rapid transfer of more authority and more resources to them, so that they can be more responsive to the demands of ordinary Iraqi civilians.