Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Iraq’s political factions have agreed on the outlines of an ethnically balanced government and expect to nominate a president and two vice presidents tomorrow , with the swearing-in to take place over the weekend.

The two-month-old gridlock was broken over the weekend with the appointment of a Sunni Arab, Hashim al-Hassani, as speaker of the National Assembly and rough behind-closed-doors agreements on the makeup of the new Cabinet.

“It was a great breakthrough to finally have the speaker announced,” said Qubad Talabani, the Washington-based spokesman for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan — whose leader, Jalal Talabani, is expected to serve as president. Jalal Talabani is Qubad Talabani’s father.

Tomorrow, the National Assembly is expected to nominate the president and two vice presidents, who then will nominate a prime minister. Once the candidate is approved by a majority vote in the National Assembly, he can proceed to form a Cabinet.

“The deadlock is broken, and everything is moving right now,” said Karim al-Musawi, spokesman for the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one of the leading parties in the Shi’ite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), which holds a majority in the National Assembly.

“There is good conversation between the parties. They are on their way to reach an agreement about the Cabinet. We are on the right path,” Mr. al-Musawi said.

As it stands now, Jalal Talabani will become the first Kurdish president of Iraq and Shi’ite Dawa Party leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari will become prime minister. Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Massoud Barzani will be Kurdistan’s regional president.

The two vice-presidential positions are expected to be given to a Sunni and a Shi’ite. Of the five most important, or “sovereign” ministries, oil, interior and finance are expected to go to UIA members. The ministry of foreign affairs will go to the Kurds, and defense will likely be led by a Sunni.

“They are still juggling with the names,” said Adnan Ali, a Dawa Party spokesman in Baghdad. “In the coming week, we will hear more about the names of strong candidates.”

Mr. Ali said the new prime minister would want to weigh in on the profile of the new Cabinet, emphasizing competence and experience while seeking members who will be able to work as a team.

Officials of the Kurdish alliance, which holds 75 seats in the 275-seat assembly, said they were pleased with the negotiations so far, but cautioned that work had yet to be done on the future of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

“We are satisfied with the Kurdish bloc retaining the position of foreign minister,” Qubad Talabani said. The question of Kirkuk, he said, would take a long time to resolve.

Political leaders have agreed that the new government will set up a mechanism to rectify the injustices of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, providing for the repatriation of Kurds who were expelled from the city and redrawing the administrative boundaries of the governorate to its 1968 borders.

Saddam annexed parts of Kirkuk to neighboring governorates that year. Once these areas have been returned to Kirkuk, the people will hold a referendum on whether to be administered by Kurdistan or Baghdad.

The parties also have agreed in principle that oil revenues will be distributed evenly among all Iraqis, with special attention going to communities that were deprived under Saddam, such as the Kurds, Marsh Arabs and Shi’ites of southern Iraq. No hard numbers have been determined.

“Everyone will get a proportionate share, with special compensation for those who need the money,” Qubad Talabani said.

On another sticking point, it has been agreed that the Kurdish “peshmerga” militia will be considered part of the Iraqi armed forces, but will be commanded and deployed by the Kurdish regional government.

“The negotiations were tough, and they were complex,” Qubad Talabani said. “It was a matter of balancing everyone’s wishes. That is why it has taken so long.”

Hopes are high that swearing in the new government will propel Iraq’s political and security fortunes forward.

“I think we really have achieved a lot. We have witnessed that the number of [terrorist] attacks has been reduced by a third, and I think it will continue to go down,” said Mr. Ali, speaking by telephone from Baghdad.

“The more the political process takes place and assures the Iraqis it is genuine and not a game, I think this will push Iraqis to believe this democratic process is true,” he said.

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