Iraq’s national unity government finally was inaugurated Saturday after the Parliament approved a list of 36 men and women appointed to the Cabinet of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The government is the first constitutionally based one since President Saddam Hussein’s was toppled in 2003. With the inauguration of the national unity government, Iraq’s democratic process, started at the initiative of the United States, is complete. But the new government faces the huge and difficult task of ending sectarian violence and bringing reconciliation to the divided country.
U.S. President George W. Bush characterized the formation of the new Iraqi government as a “new day for the millions of Iraqis who want to live in freedom.” But as if to remind Mr. al-Maliki of the difficult road lying ahead, a bomb killed at least 19 people in a poor Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad, shortly before Parliament began procedures to approve the new government. In a Sunni town near the Syrian border, a suicide bomber set off explosives inside a police station killing five policemen and wounding 10 others.
The Cabinet of Mr. al-Maliki, who is of the Shiite religious party Dawa, includes Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Yet the interior and defense posts, which are expected to play a central role in ending the insurgency, were not filled. For the time being, the respective functions of these two posts will be carried out by Mr. al-Maliki and his Sunni deputy prime minister, Salam Zikam al-Zubaie.
A national unity government was originally to have been formed by the end of 2005 following the parliamentary election in December. Fierce strife among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds over the distribution of Cabinet posts caused a five-month delay. Although Mr. al-Maliki told the Parliament, “We will work within a framework that will preserve the unity of the Iraqi people,” his government is shadowed by rivalry among mutually opposing sects and ethnic factions.
For many Iraqi people who wish to establish a country not dictated by outside forces, the number of victims from internal violence is growing too great to bear. Terrorism by armed forces and attacks by militias continue. With no clear prospect for restoration of order and economic reconstruction, a stable, democratic Iraq as envisaged by the United States is not in sight.
The February bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of Iraq’s most revered Shiite shrines, which killed more than 130 people, further aggravated antagonism between different religious communities. More than 1,000 Iraqi citizens were killed in April alone and about 100,000 Iraqis have fled their residences for fear of sectarian violence.
There is a pressing need for Mr. al-Maliki to restore security in his country. He has made it clear that he will integrate Shiite militias into the state’s security forces. “Militias, death squads, terrorism, killings and assassinations are not normal and we should put an end to the militias,” he said.
Militias have ties with political parties and thousands of armed men are under their wings. It is also said that some Shiite militiamen, by occupying important positions in the armed forces and police, are inciting sectarian violence, rather than working to calm it down. It would not be far-fetched to say that the possibility of succeeding in dissolving the militias is very dim.
Even with the inauguration of the national unity government, there is no guarantee that Iraq will speedily take over responsibility for security from the U.S. and other foreign forces. It is unclear when and to what degree the 130,000 U.S. troops occupying Iraq can be drawn down. Nor is it clear when Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force unit stationed in Samawa can withdraw.
Another important but difficult task for the new government is a review of the constitution. This is necessary to prevent Iraq from becoming a partitioned state, with Sunnis in the center, Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north. The constitution was approved in an Oct. 15, 2005, referendum; Shiites and Kurds supported the document, while a large body of Sunnis rejected it. Mr. al-Maliki’s has only four months to review the constitution.
Sunnis complain that the document gives Shiites and Kurds too much control over Iraq’s oil resources. In addition to the distribution of oil revenues, the review must cover such points as the role of religion in the Iraqi state and the shape of the federal system. The federal system, which gives autonomy to the dwelling areas of Shiites and Kurds — where oil resources are located — is directly linked to their oil interests.
If the review process is thrown into confusion, it could lead to a de facto splitting of the country in the worst case, causing repercussions throughout the Middle East, including overt Iranian interference in Iraq.
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