Iraq Reports Progress in Forming Cabinet

The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 9, 2006; 5:11 AM

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's prime minister-designate reported progress Tuesday in the formation of a Cabinet for Iraq's new national unity government and said he hoped to complete the process by the end of the week.

Nouri al-Maliki said nominations for top positions in the Cabinet have been submitted by Iraq's complex mix of Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish groups.

"We have completed the nominations for the main posts and the sovereignty ministries," he said at a news conference, referring to ministries such as Finance, Defense and Interior.

"Just a few remain" to be decided, he said, adding that he hoped to finish the process by Thursday.

He said the Defense Ministry, which controls Iraq's military, and the Interior Ministry, which oversees the country's police forces, will by led by independent ministers unaffiliated with the country's many militias. That has been a key demand of the U.S.-led coalition.

Al-Maliki said discussions were still ongoing about who will lead the Oil, Trade and Transportation ministries.

He declined to name any of the nominees, saying that should be done when the entire proposed Cabinet is announced. Parliament then must approve it by a simple majority.

The news conference in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone came at a pivotal time for al-Maliki who has been struggling since he was nominated as prime minister last month to complete the final step in establishing the new Iraqi government.

U.S. officials hope it will help calm sectarian tensions, lure Sunni Arabs away from the insurgency and eventually allow the withdrawal of some American forces.

The process has been riddled with ethnic and sectarian tension and deadly attacks by insurgents, and al-Maliki, a Shiite, has been working to balance the conflicting interests of Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish legislators.

Currently, the Interior Ministry, headed by Bayan Jabr, a Shiite, has come under criticism from Sunnis who say that Shiite "death squads" are routinely targeting members of their community, further exacerbating a wave of reprisal sectarian attacks.

Sunni Arabs have jockeyed for the Oil, Finance, Interior and Defense ministries. But those posts have largely been allocated to the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite bloc with the largest number of seats in the parliament.

They also have eyed the prominent Foreign Ministry, but lawmakers have repeatedly said that this portfolio will remain in the hands of the Kurds, who also hold the presidency.

© 2006 The Associated Press