Iraq swears in first full-term government

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Iraqi parliament approves the new government - the first first full-term government since the US-led invasion in 2003 - consisting of 37 ministers which now holds members from Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni sects including Foreign Minister Hoshivar Zebari (Kurd), Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zaubai (Sunni) and Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani (Shia).

Due to disagreements the positions for the Interior, National Security and Defence Minister roles have been left vacant. For now the new Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki (Shia) is also taking the role of Interior Minister while Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zaubi will take the role of Defence Minister. Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh has taken the role of acting National Security Minister. The mixed Cabinet of Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish sects also includes two women, the Human Rights Minister Wijdan Mikaeil and Women's Affairs Minister Fatin Abdel-Rahman.

Several members of the Sunni factions led a walk-out before the approval of the new Cabinet after their proposal to postpone the event was turned down.

Mr Maliki hopes that people not associated with any or Iraq’s militia groups will fill these positions.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair so far has hailed the progress as “a very, very crucial change in Iraq”. The news has also prompted a response from the new Italian Prime Minister - "Italy supports Iraq in this direction", Romano Prodi, Italian Prime Minister - after Mr Romano said he would propose the withdrawal of Italy's 2,600 troops in Iraq.

In the following speech to the 275-seat assembly by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki announced that his government will focus on the issues of stability and security by working with the occupying forces, putting in place new laws to break up militias and integrate them into the federal forces. In his speech Mr. Maliki also mentioned other issues such as terrorism and "an objective timetable" for multinational forces to leave Iraq.

There are mixed feelings about whether the formation of the new government can bring peace amongst the religious factions. Many people hope however that these are the first steps to quell the resent escalating sectarian violence that has spread across the country. Some of the recent violence includes a bomb blast in a predominately Shia precinct of Baghdad, a suicide bomb attack on a police station in Qaim and numerous accounts of dumped bodies bearing evidence of torture and execution. Hundreds of people have been killed and even more have fled their homes since the bombing of a Shiite shrine in February 2006 in fear of more sectarian violence.

Sunni politicians have made allegations that death squads are operating as part of the security forces and are to blame for many of the killings.