Iraq's Al-Jaafari submits cabinet plan
Iraq's new prime minister said Wednesday he submitted a complete list of 36 Cabinet members, including seven women, a critical step before the National Assembly votes on a new government drawing in the main ethnic and religious groups and ending a three-month stalemate.
The announcement came hours after gunmen killed a Shiite Muslim lawmaker in her home — the first elected official slain since the country's landmark vote for parliament on Jan. 30. And a deadline set by Iraqi militants threatening to kill three kidnapped Romanian journalists and their Iraqi-American translator lapsed with no word on their fate.
The kidnapping and killing underscored fears the prolonged delay in naming a government had emboldened insurgents, who have staged a series of dramatic and well-coordinated attacks in recent weeks.
"The Iraqis will find that this government has religious, ethnic, political and geographic variety, in addition to the participation of women," al-Jaafari told reporters on the steps of his office. "Now that the process has started, we will spare no effort to bring back a smile to children's faces."
He gave the list to President Jalal Talabani and his two vice presidents for approval before presenting it to the National Assembly on Thursday.
Talabani already indicated he would not exercise his veto, and al-Jaafari was confident the list would clear the presidential council and parliament. A formal handover between outgoing Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and his successor will take place in the coming days, al-Jaafari said.
However, haggling over the distribution of ministries continued until the last minute and at least three Sunni lawmakers quit al-Jaafari's Shiite-dominated alliance over his choices.
While releasing no names, al-Jaafari said his Cabinet would include 32 ministers and at least three deputy premiers, in addition to himself. A fourth deputy could also be added, he said, offering no explanation.
The Cabinet would have 17 Shiite Arab ministers, eight Kurds, six Sunni Arabs and one Christian, fulfilling promises by leaders of the Shiite majority to share power with ethnic and religious minorities, lawmakers said. Seven of the ministers would be women, al-Jaafari said.
Members of al-Jaafari's United Iraqi Alliance, the largest bloc in parliament, said the deputy premiers would come from each of Iraq's main Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions.
The Shiite deputy would be former Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi, head of an Iraqi exile group that provided intelligence to the United States on Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, said Chalabi's spokesman, Entifadh Qanbar, and other alliance members.
The Kurdish deputy would be former Vice President Rowsch Nouri Shaways, according to Fouad Massoum, a senior Kurdish official, and Shiite lawmakers.
Saad Zedan Lehebi was al-Jaafari's initial choice for the Sunni deputy, but Shiite leaders raised concerns that he might have been a member of Saddam's Baath Party, which brutally repressed the majority Shiites and Kurds, said alliance lawmaker Baha al-Aaragi. It was not immediately clear who was selected in his place.
Al-Jaafari had also intended to give the defense ministry to Saadon al-Dulaimi, another Sunni, but he was rejected for the same reason, al-Aaragi said. It wasn't known who replaced him, either.
National security adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie from the Shiite alliance will retain his post, according to a statement from his office.
Shiite lawmakers said Allawi's Iraqi List party, which has 40 seats in the National Assembly, was not included in the new Cabinet. They said they had given up trying to balance Allawi's demands with those of Sunni factions that could offer help in beginning talks with Sunni militants, who are believed to be the backbone of the insurgency.
Many Shiites have long resented the secular Allawi, accusing his outgoing administration of including former Baathists in the government and security forces.
Shiites make up 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people. The Kurds make up 20 percent, and the Sunni Arabs, who largely stayed away from the elections either in boycott or for fear of attacks, are roughly 15 percent to 20 percent.
Iraqi politicians have been under increasing U.S. pressure to form a transitional government so they can focus on taking over efforts to suppress the insurgency. After a postelection lull, attacks have escalated in recent weeks.
Lamia Abed Khadouri al-Sakri, who was elected to the National Assembly on Allawi's ticket, was shot and killed by militants in her house in Baghdad's Hay Aour neighborhood, police Capt. Ali al-Obeidi said. Just last week, Allawi himself survived an attack on his convoy in Baghdad.
Al-Sakri, 50, was one of at least two senior officials attacked Wednesday by insurgents targeting Iraqis they accuse of collaborating with U.S.-led forces.
Gunmen in Baghdad also opened fire on the convoy of Brig. Gen. Jihad Luaibi, in charge of civil defense at the Interior Ministry, as he was on his way to work, wounding him and killing two of his bodyguards.