After what seemed like interminable delay, Iraqi politicians have agreed on the country’s top leaders. The posts have been filled by representatives from all of Iraq’s main religious and ethnic groups, creating as inclusive a national leadership as possible. The agreement hints that deals have also been made regarding the Cabinet, although the new prime minister has said that it will take time to form a government. Selection of the top leadership comes not a moment too soon, as the Iraqi people were becoming increasingly frustrated by the slow progress. Iraqis must take control of their country if they are to defeat the insurgents that strike almost daily. The creation of a government is another step toward that goal.
Negotiations landed Mr. Jalal Talabani in the presidency, making him the first Kurd to head a predominately Arab country. His Kurdistan Alliance won 75 of the new National Assembly’s 275 seats. Since the president’s powers are largely symbolic, Mr. Talabani’s assumption of the presidency is not surprising.
The real power resides in the prime minister, and Mr. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, claimed that post. Shiites are the largest ethnic and religious group in Iraq. In the Jan. 30 elections, the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, a bloc of parties, took 140 seats. Together with the Kurds, the two groups had the two-thirds majority needed to form a government.
A majority is not enough to rule a country that is as divided by internecine rivalries as Iraq. Although Sunnis boycotted the January ballot, Mr. Talabani has called for them to have a role in the government as well. After he was voted president, the National Assembly picked Sheik Ghazi al-Yawar, the Sunni president of the interim government, to be one of two vice presidents; Mr. Adel Abdul Mahdi, a leading Shiite politician, was picked as the other. Mr. Hajim al-Hassani, a U.S.-educated Sunni Arab politician, was selected speaker of the National Assembly, although that too is a largely symbolic post. Mr. Talabani has also suggested offering an amnesty for the insurgents — who are primarily Sunnis — who have “resisted” the occupation forces. Groups that had attacked Iraqis or religious sites would not qualify.
Although the two leading groups could agree on key personnel, distrust runs deep. Many Iraqis still fear that the Kurds harbor dreams for their own independent country, to be carved out of the territories that the Kurds have administered on their own since the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s. There are still important questions to be settled about the amount of autonomy the Kurds will have in the new government, the provision of security in Kurd-dominated areas and who will control key towns such as Kirkuk, whose oil revenues are essential to the survival of any Kurdish state.
Kurds worry about the role of Islam in the new state. The Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) that governs the process by which an Iraqi government will be established says that Islam should be merely “a source” of the country’s legal system. Mr. al-Jaafari is a pious Islamist, and Kurds and secular Iraqis worry that his personal beliefs could motivate him to seek a more expansive role for Islam in the new Iraq.
The TAL gives Mr. al-Jaafari one month to put together his Cabinet and get it approved by the assembly. Since the Shiites and Kurds control the needed two-thirds of seats, approval is guaranteed. It is likely that posts have been divided and the key positions decided. The real work will focus on producing principles that will guide the new government and the drafting of the constitution, a task that must be completed by mid-August. Although it has taken much longer to get to this point, Mr. Talabani has insisted that the deadline will be met.
Even more pressing, however, is the need to quell concerns about the makeup of the security forces. Shiites and Kurds complain that the interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has brought back many Ba’athists from former President Saddam Hussein’s government. They worry that the security services in particular have become a redoubt for those forces and they could become a source of opposition to the new government. Those tensions were evident in the debate after the selection of the new leaders as several parliamentarians demanded the resignation of the interim government.
There are reasons to worry about the loyalty of the security forces. There is evidence that they are feeding information to the insurgents. A wholesale house cleaning is not the best way to eliminate that threat. That was tried and all it did was alienate a large, well-armed segment of the population. The best way to fight that threat is to give the Sunnis a stake in the new government. They have no reason to be loyal to the new administration in Baghdad. But if they are convinced it is their government, too, then they will work harder to defend it.
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