Iraq approves new government with Maliki as prime minister

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Iraq approves new government with Maliki as prime minister

BAGHDAD - Iraq’s parliament approved Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his new government on Tuesday, nine months after an inconclusive election left politics in limbo and delayed investments to rebuild the country after years of war.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Tue 21 Dec 2010, 11:18 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 6:48 AM

Lawmakers voted Maliki and a new multi-party slate of ministers into office, elevating Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani to deputy prime minister for energy, and leaving in place Kurdish veteran Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari.

Highlighting the ethnic and sectarian divides that pervade the war-ravaged country, parliament had to postpone the vote on Monday after last-minute factional disputes and political horse-trading over posts delayed the government’s formation.

Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki (front-R) poses for a a group picture with his new cabinet during a parliamentary session in Baghdad on December 21, 2010 as lawmakers gave the new government a vote of confidence and adopted a 43-point programme aimed at liberalising the economy and fighting terrorism. - AFP

As Maliki read out the chosen ministers’ names one by one, parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi scanned the chamber for raised hands and said “approved by the majority” each time. The speaker did not ask for a show of hands from those opposing the candidate or abstaining from the vote.

In separate votes, parliament approved three deputy prime ministers as well as other cabinet ministers and the government’s programme. The government was then declared formed with Maliki as the prime minister.

Maliki acknowledged his ministerial list was not perfect.

“I do not say that this government, with all its formations, satisfies its citizens’ aspirations, nor the political blocs’, nor my ambition, nor any other person’s ambition, because it is formed ... in extraordinary circumstances,” he told lawmakers.

“This is what we have, and what we have could be better than what we had if we stand by our decisions,” Maliki said.

Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who failed to gain enough support for a majority after his cross-sectarian Iraqiya bloc won the most seats, told the assembly his Sunni-backed coalition would participate fully in the government.

Allawi, a secular Shi’ite, has said he will join the government as head of a new national strategic policy council.

Two female lawmakers protested at Tuesday’s assembly against the absence of women in the new cabinet.

U.S. President Barack Obama, whose predecessor George W. Bush led a military invasion of Iraq in 2003 that overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein, praised the formation of the new cabinet.

“Their decision to form an inclusive partnership government is a clear rejection of the efforts by extremists to spur sectarian division,” he said.

The United States formally ended combat operations in Iraq at the end of August, and there are just under 50,000 troops left in the country. The remaining soldiers are expected to withdraw by the end of 2011.

FRAGILE DEALS

Maliki has yet to decide on permanent choices for 11 positions, including sensitive security-related ministries such as defence and interior. Acting ministers were put in charge.

The prime minister promoted deputy oil minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi to minister and made prominent Sunni leader Rafie al-Esawi finance minister.

“The deal the parties worked out is rather elaborate but the critical thing is that they were able to get to this point through peaceful negotiations without any return to large-scale violence,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center.

“That said, power-sharing deals like this one tend to be quite fragile and so the next few months will present a crucial test for the rival blocs.”

International investors are watching developments in Iraq’s energy sector with great interest as the country embarks on an ambitious programme to exploit its vast oil resources and rebuild its neglected and damaged infrastructure after decades of war and international economic sanctions.

While Shahristani was minister, the oil ministry reached a series of deals with oil majors that could boost Iraq’s output capacity to 12 million barrels per day, rivalling global leader Saudi Arabia, from about 2.5 million barrels per day now.

For oil companies, Shahristani’s continued control over the oil sector and Luaibi’s promotion will be seen as assurance that contracts they agreed will be honoured in the absence of formal guarantees, since Iraq still lacks a new hydrocarbons law.

A power-sharing deal on Nov 10. between Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs put Maliki on track for a second term as prime minister. The pact returned Kurd Jalal Talabani as president and made Nujaifi, a Sunni, parliament’s speaker.

Eman Ragab, an Iraq expert at Cairo’s Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said the new government would not be granted a honeymoon period due to public impatience after nine months of stalemate.

“The new government will not be allowed the luxury of taking months to form a plan and years to implement it. People want fast solutions for the provision of social services and addressing the challenge of security,” she said.

Top officials in Iraq’s new government

NURI AL-MALIKI, PRIME MINISTER

Maliki, a Shi’ite, rose to power as a compromise candidate for premier in 2006 and struggled to control competing political factions, but won respect for curbing sectarian violence by sending the army against Shi’ite militias. Born in 1950 in Hindiya, he holds a master’s degree in Arabic literature and worked at the education ministry before fleeing Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Here are five facts about Maliki:

* Maliki was born at Hindiya, south of Baghdad, in 1950. He holds a master’s degree in Arabic and worked at the Education Ministry before fleeing in 1980 to neighbouring Syria and then Iran under sentence of death for his political activism. He returned after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein.

* Maliki was thrust to the forefront of Iraqi politics in April 2006 with the image of a tough, Shi’ite Islamist strong enough to weld rival factions into a national unity government. He was sworn in as prime minister for the first time in May 2006.

* Maliki struggled to control a fractious government forged of fragile alliances. But in the last two years he has emerged stronger after sending the army to fight Shi’ite militia and presiding over a sharp fall in overall violence.

* Seemingly quick to anger, Maliki has turned many former allies into foes. He bristled at criticism in 2007 from U.S. lawmakers and has difficult relations with some U.S. military officials in Iraq. He harbours evident hatred of the Saddam regime which repressed Iraq’s Shia majority and assassinated many of his political colleagues. Many Sunnis fear he has little interest in affording them a fair share of power.

* Maliki has pursued a fine line with Shia Iran, a U.S. foe which fought a 1980-88 war with Saddam’s Iraq. Some say he has bowed to Iranian demands, citing an occasion when he met President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without a necktie, in deference to Iranian revolutionary fashion. Others said Tehran wanted Maliki replaced because it does not consider him friendly enough.

JALAL TALABANI, PRESIDENT

Talabani was born near Arbil in northern Iraq in 1933 and became a lieutenant to Mullah Mustafa Barzani, patriarch of Iraqi Kurdish nationalism and founder of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. He split from the KDP in 1974 and formed his own party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, in Damascus the following year. Talabani became Iraq’s first elected president in more than 50 years in April 2005 and was selected again in April 2006 as a national unity government was put together.

HUSSAIN AL-SHAHRISTANI, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER FOR ENERGY

A nuclear scientist by training, Shahristani, a Shi’ite, is the architect of Iraq’s ambitious plans to become a leading oil producer and tap its rich fields for the money needed to rebuild war-damaged infrastructure. Born in 1942, he studied in Britain, Russia and Canada. He was imprisoned by Saddam Hussein for activities against the regime. Under Shahristani’s guidance, Iraq signed contracts with global oil firms in a bid to boost output capacity to 12 million barrels per day in coming years.

ABDUL KAREEM LUAIBI, OIL MINISTER

Born in the Iraqi capital in 1959, Luaibi graduated from the University of Baghdad with a bachelor’s degree in oil engineering. He was hired by the government as an oil engineer with the South Oil Company in 1982.

Luaibi worked with the Midland Refinery Company, another oil ministry affiliate, from 1993 to 1999 and moved to the technical department of the ministry in 2006 for a two-year stint. He moved up the ranks quickly, becoming inspector general from 2007-09 and deputy minister in March 2009.

Luaibi is known to have good relations with international oil companies, led most of the talks in the first and second bid rounds for Iraq’s oilfields, and signed many of the contracts with global majors.

RAFIE AL-ESAWI, FINANCE MINISTER

A prominent Sunni leader, Esawi was born in Falluja in 1966. A medical doctor and surgeon who was educated in Baghdad and Basra, he worked as the manager of a Falluja hospital from 2003 to 2004 and was director of Anbar province’s health department from 2004 to 2005.

He previously served as minister of state for foreign affairs under Maliki and was a deputy prime minister in the outgoing government.

HOSHIYAR ZEBARI, FOREIGN MINISTER

Zebari, a Kurd, is the incumbent foreign minister and has served in the post since shortly after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Zebari was an active member of the Iraqi opposition in the time of former dictator Saddam Hussein and was a spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party. He was born in 1953 in the Kurdish town of Aqra, studied political science in Jordan, and earned a master’s degree in sociology at Essex University in England in 1980. He is considered a knowledgeable and well-versed diplomat who relishes his international status.

IYAD ALLAWI, HEAD OF NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR STRATEGIC POLICIES

A secular Shi’ite who was born in 1945, Allawi headed a transitional government in 2004 and 2005, when the United States pulled the strings and Iraq was on the verge of sectarian war. He is the head of the cross-sectarian Iraqiya bloc, the main Sunni-backed political coalition. A neurologist and businessman educated in Baghdad and London, he hails from a wealthy merchant family with strong political heritage. His grandfather helped negotiate Iraq’s independence from Britain in 1920.

Here is reaction to the government’s formation:

SHADI HAMID, DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, BROOKINGS DOHA CENTER

“There is a renewed sense of cautious optimism now. The important thing now is that there will be a national unity government with buy-in from the Sunni minority. The deal the parties worked out is rather elaborate but the critical thing is that they were able to get to this point through peaceful negotiations without any return to large-scale violence.

“That said, power-sharing deals like this one tend to be quite fragile and so the next few months will present a crucial test for the two rival blocs. Can they find an arrangement that works on a day-to-day basis? A major question mark is what the newly announced national strategy council will look like and what powers it will have. If Allawi uses the council to undermine Maliki then all bets are off.”

THEODORE KARASIK, SECURITY ANALYST AT INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST & GULF MILITARY ANALYSIS

“With the government formation, the positive aspect is that there is now forward progress being made, but the negative is the residual affects of not having proper governance (for nine months).

“The key challenges ahead are building the government itself without alienating various factions that would lead to more political discontent. Also, if violence erupts among political entities, this will hamper progress in order to shift the political order. Certain entities know this fact as do some outside powers and forces.”

EMAN RAGAB, IRAQ EXPERT AT CAIRO-BASED AL-AHRAM CENTRE FOR POLITICAL AND STRATEGIC STUDIES:

“This shows that the parties realise violence is not going to solve any of the problems between them and peaceful negotiation is the only solution. It also tells us the system is beginning to show signs of stability compared to 2006 and the new government might be more stable than its predecessor.”

“The elections of March 2010 raised hopes among the Iraqi people that the new government would be more effective in providing services to them. It has been months without a government being formed. The new government will not be allowed the luxury of taking months to form a plan and years to implement it. People want fast solutions for the provision of social services and addressing the challenge of security.”

WATHIQ AL-HASHEMI, BAGHDAD-BASED IRAQI POLITICAL ANALYST

“This government will face huge challenges. ... We hoped that this would be a government of technocrats. But unfortunately ... it is a government of heads of political parties or top politicians. And this will create a great obstacle for Maliki inside his cabinet. In other words, it means the conflict will transfer from parliament to the cabinet.”

“We, as a state, are facing great challenges and we need qualified, academic and professional candidates and not politicians. I believe this government — with this make-up and the challenges waiting for it — will not last for a long time and will collapse.”

Iraq votes on new government

Iraq’s parliament approved a new government on Tuesday, nine months after an inconclusive election left politics in limbo and delayed investments to rebuild the country after years of war Here are some key events since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

March 20, 2003 - U.S. and British forces invade from Kuwait.

April 9 - U.S. troops take Baghdad, Saddam disappears.

July 13 - The Iraqi Governing Council — 25 Iraqis chosen under U.S. supervision — holds inaugural meeting in Baghdad.

Aug. 19 - Suicide truck bomb at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad kills 22 people, including U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Dec. 13 - U.S. troops capture Saddam near Tikrit. U.S. governor of Iraq Paul Bremer breaks news with: “We got him.”

March 8, 2004 - Governing Council signs interim constitution.

June 1 - Governing Council dissolved to make way for interim government led by Iyad Allawi. Ghazi al-Yawar named president.

June 28 - United States formally returns sovereignty. Coalition Provisional Authority dissolved. Bremer leaves Iraq.

Jan. 30, 2005 - Shi’ite-led United Iraqi Alliance dominates vote for local council and interim parliament. Most Sunnis do not vote.

March 16 - National Assembly holds first meeting.

Oct. 15 - Referendum ratifies constitution despite Sunni Arab opposition.

Dec. 15 - Parliamentary election. More Sunnis vote this time than in the January election.

Feb. 10, 2006 - Final results give Shi’ite-led UIA near majority with 128 seats. Sunni Arabs have 58 and Kurds 53.

Feb. 22 - Bombing of Shi’ite shrine in Samarra sparks widespread sectarian violence, raising fears of civil war.

Nov. 5 - A Baghdad court finds Saddam guilty of crimes against humanity. He is executed on Dec. 30.

June 15, 2007 - U.S. military says it has completed its troop build-up, or “surge”, to 160,000 soldiers to quell violence.

Aug. 14 - Truck bombings against the minority Yazidi community in northern Iraq kill more than 400 people — the deadliest militant attacks in Iraq since 2003.

Jan. 12, 2008 - Parliament votes for junior members of Saddam’s Baath Party to return to government jobs, a key to reconciliation.

July 19 - Iraq’s main Sunni Arab bloc rejoins the government when parliament approves its candidates for ministerial posts.

Nov. 17 - Iraq and the United States sign an accord requiring Washington to withdraw its forces by the end of 2011.

Jan. 1, 2009 - U.S.-Iraq security pact comes into force, placing the roughly 140,000 U.S. troops under Iraqi authority.

Jan. 31 - Iraq holds provincial elections, the most peaceful vote since the fall of Saddam, demonstrating big security gains. Maliki’s nationalist coalition scores big victory at the expense of sectarian and federalist parties.

Feb. 27 - U.S. President Barack Obama announces plan to end U.S. combat operations in Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010. He makes an unannounced visit to Baghdad on April 7.

Dec. 8 - Iraq sets March 7, 2010 as the long awaited date for a general election, hours after at least 112 people are killed when bombers strike government buildings in Baghdad.

March 7, 2010 - Parliamentary elections.

May 10 - At least 125 are killed in a wave of bombings and shootings across the country by suspected Sunni Islamists.

May 16 - Iyad Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition wins 91 seats in the March 7 elections. Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc is second with 89 seats.

Aug. 7 - The U.S. 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, the last brigade mainly focused on combat, hands over to Iraqi forces.

Nov. 11 - Incumbent Prime Minister Maliki’s Shia-led alliance will get the prime minister post, guaranteeing him a second term, while minority Kurds are to keep the presidency after Iraq’s main factions agree on the top three political posts, ending an eight-month deadlock after the March elections.

Dec. 21 - Parliament approves Maliki’s new 42-strong cabinet list, which includes the appointment of outgoing Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani as deputy prime minister for energy and outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Rafie al-Esawi as finance minister. Hoshiyar Zebari is reappointed foreign minister.


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