Sun, Oct 15, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Iraqi minister ready to reshuffle

CLEANING HOUSE Despite lacking political backing, Jawad al-Bolani has sacked thousands of employees and appeared keen to transform Iraq's Interior Ministry

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BAGHDAD

Iraq's interior minister, under pressure from Western officials and some Iraqi leaders to purge the ministry of sectarian influence, said on Friday that he was preparing to reshuffle its leadership and that he had the political backing to carry out the plan.

The minister, Jawad al-Bolani, said in an interview on Friday that he had received the support of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, to make all necessary changes among his top commanders.

"We have an urgent need," al-Bolani said during the interview, his first in-depth conversation with Western media outlets. "We have to have changes at this level."

"All the senior employees of the Interior Ministry are in a cycle of change," he added,

Al-Bolani did not elaborate on his plans, but said his recommendations were being reviewed by a governmental committee.

When he took office in late May, al-Bolani vowed to clean house at the agency, which oversees the nation's police forces. Western officials and Sunni Arab leaders have accused the ministry of harboring senior managers who, during the previous government, tolerated or encouraged the infiltration of Shiite militias into the police forces.

Although al-Bolani has made some strides toward accomplishing his reform goals, including firing thousands of employees, Western officials and some Iraqi officials have said that he has lacked the political support to conduct the necessary purges, particularly at the upper levels of the ministry.

According to US officials close to the ministry, among the commanders al-Bolani may replace is Adnan al-Asadi, the deputy minister of administration, who is suspected of abetting the Shiite militias. Al-Bolani denied those assertions on Friday.

Al-Bolani's appointment was praised at the time by Western officials because he was viewed as more independent from the ruling Shiite parties than other leading candidates for the job. US advisers and Iraqi officials say he appears committed to cleaning up the ministry.

But even his supporters suspect that the same quality that made him an attractive candidate -- his political independence -- has left him without the political muscle to make radical, necessary changes in the institution.

The minister insisted in the interview that he was trying to transform the ministry from top to bottom.

Al-Bolani said he had fired more than 3,000 employees since he took over, some for corruption and human rights violations, and that he referred 300 to 600 of those cases to the Iraqi court system.

He also pointed to the recent suspension of an entire Iraqi police brigade on suspicion that some members may have permitted, or even participated in, death squad killings.

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