Incoming PM to unveil Cabinet

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Iraq’s incoming prime minister said Wednesday he will unveil his Cabinet to parliament this weekend, the first sign that the country may finally be moving ahead with a national unity government after weeks of wrangling.

There are hopes that sharing power successfully will help heal the sectarian rift underlying the relentless wave of violence that has swept Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion three years ago and open the way for American troops to begin returning home.

But talks were still under way on choices to head the critical ministries of interior and defense, which control the police and army respectively. Without an eventual agreement, no resolution is possible of the basic conflict between Shiites and Sunni Arabs.

A spokesman for Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki told The Associated Press that he would present the Cabinet at a parliament session Saturday with or without a decision on those two posts.

“The government is almost completed. Only the interior and defense ministries remain,” said the spokesman, Salah Abdul-Razaq. “If an agreement is not reached, the announcement will be made without these posts.”

He did not elaborate, but his remarks suggested that al-Maliki, a Shiite, would appoint himself to head the two ministries until all parties agreed on the two appointees. Saturday would be two days ahead of a 30-day deadline for al-Maliki to present a Cabinet, and it was unlikely that he would present a deal for parliament to vote down.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he was informed that Malaki had chosen his defense minister, but he did not say who the choice was. Rumsfeld also said he understood that the full Cabinet will be announced by the deadline.

Parliament, officially the Council of Representatives, must approve each proposed minister by an absolute majority of all 275 members. That means not simply a majority of the members who show up for the session.

If the prime minister fails to win approval of his Cabinet, President Jalal Talabani has 15 days to designate another nominee, who will then have 30 days to form a Cabinet. The constitution does not rule out reappointing al-Maliki, in effect giving him more time to complete the process.

The two main Sunni Arab factions, which hold 55 seats in parliament, had demanded they either be given or be allowed to appoint the defense minister. In return, the dominant Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, with 130 seats, would get the Interior Ministry.

An American diplomat said there was a “short list” for defense and interior ministers and that a decision could be reached by Saturday.

The names U.S. officials have seen are credible people, said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he said only the ambassador and his spokesman could speak on the record.

Candidates thought to be favored for the defense minister are former Parliament Speaker Hajim al-Hassani, outgoing Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi, current Industry Minister Osama al-Najafai and former Iraqi army Gen. Baraa Najib al-Rubaei. All are Sunni Arabs.

Al-Najafi was also an economics professor at the University of Mosul. He is considered a moderate with no links to any of the key Sunni Arab groups; he escaped an assassination attempt a few months ago.

Al-Rubaei served 30 years in the Iraqi army but was on bad terms with Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime.

Interior Ministry candidates include former Pentagon favorite and vice president Ahmed Chalabi; Qassim Dawoud, an independent Shiite politician; and Lt. Gen. Nasser Daham al-Amiri, a former army officer.

Under the framework outlined by Shiites and verified by Sunni politicians, the United Iraqi Alliance would receive 16 ministries; the Kurds five; Sunni Arabs six or seven; the secular Iraqi List headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi four; and Turkoman and Christian parties would receive one each.

In the last government, the Shiites held 17 ministries, the Sunni Arabs five, the Kurds had 10 and a Christian had one.

Winning parliamentary approval of the new Cabinet is the final step in forming a government of national unity, which the U.S. believes offers the best hope of calming sectarian tensions and luring Sunni Arabs from the insurgency.

Sunni Arabs have long sought the Defense Ministry. A defense minister acceptable to a large segment of the minority could attract more Sunnis to serve in the Shiite-dominated army – especially in places like Anbar province in western Iraq.

The U.S. has focused its effort on training a broad-based army and police force as part of its eventual exit strategy, which hinges on the two services eventually taking control of the country’s security.

Rumsfeld refused to say if there would be a major U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq by year’s end.

“I can’t promise it,” Rumsfeld said of the 132,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who testified with Rumsfeld before a Senate subcommittee, was asked whether U.S. troops could withdraw completely from any of Iraq’s 18 provinces within the next three months.

“No, sir,” Pace replied.

Violence ebbed around Iraq on Wednesday, with two Iraqis killed and nine wounded in three roadside bombs and two drive-by shootings. The bodies of two Iraqi men, handcuffed and shot in the head, were found in the capital.

Police also searched for the kidnapped first secretary and deputy charge d’affaires of the United Arab Emirates, who was seized Tuesday by gunmen who shot and killed his Sudanese driver.

The mother of Naji Rashid al-Nuaimi, the 28-year-old diplomat, pleaded for his release. She said on television that he was her eldest son and someone who “loves the Iraqi people.”


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