Tue, Dec 21, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Squabbling snarls Iraqi Cabinet plan

CONFUSION REIGNS:Officials insisted the prime minister would name at least a few posts yesterday, but some MPs said the announcement wouldn’t come until tomorrow

AFP, BAGHDAD

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s plan to unveil a national unity Cabinet was in disarray yesterday as political parties squabbled over posts and the timing of the announcement was put in doubt.

While Maliki had been expected to name his entire Cabinet except for three sensitive posts linked to national security, politicians said that as many as half of the ministerial positions were still undecided.

The divisions come with no Cabinet having been formed since the March elections, as a Saturday deadline looms for a government to be in place.

“The problem is that many political blocs are all asking for the same post at the same time. Because of this, there is still no agreement,” said Khaled al-Assadi, a member of parliament (MP) in Maliki’s coalition who is seen as close to the prime minister.

“I can say that that only half the ministries have been decided so far,” he said. “The three security ministries will not be presented today, and they may not present the deputy prime ministers either.”

Even the time of the announcement was in doubt, with an adviser to Maliki and a government spokesman insisting it would be yesterday afternoon, while two lawmakers said the announcement would be delayed until tomorrow.

“Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will announce the Cabinet this afternoon, as planned,” Maliki advisor Ali Moussawi said.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh also said Maliki would make the long-awaited announcement yesterday.

However, MP Hanaa Turki, from Maliki’s National Alliance, and independent Kurdish MP Mahmud Othman earlier said the announcement would be delayed until tomorrow, amid continued squabbling over posts.

Othman said the pan-Kurdish alliance, which holds around 50 seats in the 325-member parliament, had not yet decided on who its ministers would be.

He also said the Kurdish bloc, key to the formation of the Cabinet, would not take part in the government if Maliki did not approve deals the autonomous Kurdish region signed with oil companies without Baghdad’s initial approval.

The contracts were signed in 2004 but the government in Baghdad has refused to recognize them primarily because they are based on profit-sharing, rather than the per-barrel service fees which it prefers.

Earlier, politicians had said any Cabinet proposed yesterday would not include the naming of new ministers of interior, defense and national security, meaning Maliki would take interim control of Iraq’s security forces.

That is despite past criticism that he has steadily tightened his grip on power by grouping increasing responsibilities under the office of the prime minister.

Including Maliki’s own position and that of his three expected deputy prime ministers, the Cabinet will number 42, slightly larger than the previous one.

Maliki’s State of Law coalition won 89 seats in the elections, two fewer than the Iraqiya bloc of former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi. But neither won enough for a parliamentary majority. A power-sharing deal last month finally broke the deadlock, with Maliki being named prime minister-designate on Nov. 25 and given 30 days to name his government.

Assadi said the National Alliance, a Maliki-led pan-Shiite coalition, will control 17 ministries, while Iraqiya will hold nine. The Kurdish bloc will retain seven, with the rest divided among smaller groupings.

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