Page 3 of 3   <      

Top Iraqis Pull Back From Key U.S. Goal

Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, the most influential Sunni politician in the country, gives presents to children in Baghdad's Yarmouk neighborhood who lost their fathers to sectarian violence.
Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, the most influential Sunni politician in the country, gives presents to children in Baghdad's Yarmouk neighborhood who lost their fathers to sectarian violence. "There is a shortage of goodwill from those parties who are now in the driver's seat of the country," he said. (Pool Photo By Khalid Mohamed Via Getty Images)

Several Iraqi officials say they are hamstrung by the very government structure they are operating within. In 2003, the U.S. government handpicked a 25-member Iraqi Governing Council -- including 13 Shiites and five Sunni Arabs -- that would mirror the population's majority Shiite makeup. In 2005, when voters chose political parties rather than individual candidates, politicians' loyalties to sect over any other criteria solidified.

The resulting Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs emerged as the dominant political actors, with individual politicians subservient to the group. Leadership positions were parceled out in a de facto quota system to achieve at least nominal balance among the rivals.

This imperfect balance of power, deemed the "national unity government," entrenches these sectarian divisions and prioritizes a politician's ethnic or sect background above experience or ability, Iraqi officials say. The system makes selecting Iraqi ambassadors or cabinet ministers an exercise in horse-trading subject to bitter disputes.

"Iraq cannot be ruled by this notion of a national unity government, because that has been a recipe for paralysis," said Salih, the Kurdish deputy prime minister. "We need a government of majority, comprising the moderates, representing the key communities of Iraq and delivering to its constituents, and willing to take on the extremists."

The fragmentation of Iraq's leading Shiite coalition, while potentially leading to more instability, paralysis in parliament and gun battles in the streets, might be an opportunity to lessen the reliance of politicians on their sectarian blocs, one senior government official said.

"We need to break that mold of politics here, this politics where sectarian politics is the norm," the official said on the condition of anonymity because of concern about publicly supporting the disintegration of the Shiite bloc.

The Iraqi government plans to consolidate its cabinet and install skilled technocrats in place of inexperienced political appointees, officials said. Hamoudi, the Shiite member of parliament, said he expected that the 37 cabinet seats would be reduced to 22 or 23 in coming months. Certain public service ministries, such as Justice, Transportation, Health and Agriculture, would in theory become "independent" from political parties, he said.

"It's critical because now the feeling is that the national unity government has proven to be a failure in the region -- in Palestine, in Lebanon, and now in Iraq," Hamoudi said. "We need a strong government that conducts its duty and not that looks good."

Some potential progress toward reconciliation has run into recent trouble. The U.S. effort to recruit Sunni tribesmen to join the police force and fight the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq was strongly opposed last week by Shiite officials, who asserted that the Sunni recruits were killing innocent people under the guise of fighting insurgents.

"We demand that the American administration stop this adventure, which is rejected by all the sons of the people and its national political powers," the leading Shiite political coalition said in a statement. "Their elements are criminals who cannot be trusted or relied upon."

Special correspondent Saad al-Izzi contributed to this report.


<          3

© 2007 The Washington Post Company