- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Sunni Arabs will be offered six Cabinet posts in the new Iraqi government, equaling their representation in the 36-member interim government elected last January, according to Iraq’s national security adviser.

The Shi’ite grouping that won a plurality in elections last month, according to preliminary results, will ensure that “there will be no government without the inclusion of the Sunnis,” Mowaffaq al-Rubaie said in a telephone interview from London.

Election officials, meanwhile, announced that preliminary results from the parliamentary elections — with Sunni-led parties winning 18 percent of the vote — would be substantially unchanged when final results are announced later this week.

Inclusion of the Sunnis, a group that has dominated Iraqi governments since the 1920s, is seen as vital to stemming a Sunni-led insurgency that has bedeviled efforts to rebuild the country.

“People believe their inclusion may well quell the insurgency and will help form a strong government,” Mr. al-Rubaie said. “This is not nominal; it is a meaningful inclusion.”

The British-educated Shi’ite said it had not been decided whether the Sunnis would be allocated one of the two crucial security positions — interior minister or defense minister. But he said that in his personal opinion, those posts should be awarded based on the merit of the candidates, not the political affiliation.

But with Sunnis complaining that they were victims of widespread fraud in the Dec. 15 elections, it was doubtful that six Cabinet posts would be enough to ease their concerns.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) dismissed most such complaints yesterday, saying that fewer than 1 percent of ballots would be disallowed. Votes were eliminated in boxes in which counterfeit ballots had been found or in which the number of ballots exceeded the number of eligible voters.

The commission said its final results would be announced later this week, after the report of an international monitoring team that is expected Thursday.

Iraqi Accordance Front chief Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the largest Sunni party, declined to comment on the IEC announcement before he could review it overnight.

But Saleh al-Mutlaq, leader of a major secular Sunni party, said before yesterday’s announcement that he did not expect relief from the IEC and that Sunnis would not be assuaged by a handful of Cabinet seats.

The leader of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue said it was “ridiculous” to declare the election substantially free and fair when popular secular Sunnis such as Ahmad Chalabi and former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi had secured few or no seats.

The main dilemma, he said, was whether the Sunnis should boycott the new parliament or take up their seats and try to block any constitutional changes that would further erode the Sunnis’ position.

“Our electorate feels cheated, and that means pressure on us not to be in parliament and increased support for insurgents who reject the political process,” he said.

Mr. al-Rubaie pointed out that Sunnis had been given significant positions, including that of defense minister, in the succession of interim administrations that have governed Iraq since U.S. troops ousted dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

But this time Sunni members of the new parliament would choose their candidates for Cabinet positions, he said.

Preliminary election results showed that the United Iraqi Alliance, the religious Shi’ite coalition led by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, again would dominate the parliament but fall short of an outright majority.

The Sunnis had hoped to elect enough members to roll back the powers of provincial governments when the constitution is opened to amendments after the new parliament is seated. But it appears the group will have little leverage in the assembly.

The Sunnis fear the enshrining of a weak central government will allow the nation’s oil wealth to be controlled by the Shi’ites and Kurds, leaving a mineral-poor and impoverished Sunni central and western region.

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