- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Iraq’s National Assembly is expected to appoint the nation’s president by this weekend, while behind-the-scenes wrangling continues over who will get key positions in the new Cabinet.

Sources close to the negotiations said a new government could be complete by April 1, as pressure builds from revered Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani and among ordinary Iraqis for the politicians to come to an agreement.

Atrocities against Iraqi civilians and security forces — both politically motivated and mafia-style violence — have been relentless since the Jan. 30 elections, which gave the country’s Shi’ite majority 146 seats in the 275-member assembly.

Iraqi police yesterday announced the arrests of 30 men implicated in dozens of slayings, beheading and rapes, Agence France-Presse reported, as shootouts and the telltale smoke plume of a car bomb rose above the Baghdad skyline.

“People are so fed up,” said Asmaa, a middle-aged Baghdad resident who declined to give her last name. The politicians, she said in a telephone interview, “are quarreling with each other.”

“Everyone wants to take his share, each one wants to be minister, and the country is in complete chaos,” she said.

Kidnappings are on the rise in the capital again after a lull. The son-in-law of Tariq Aziz, one of Saddam’s jailed henchmen, was recently taken hostage for a $750,000 ransom.

The Kurds, who won 77 seats in the assembly, are fighting hard to obtain guarantees that the oil-rich city of Kirkuk will be incorporated into Kurdistan, that their peshmerga militia be allowed to stand, and that a Kurd will lead the Oil Ministry and eight other ministries, said a Kurd in close contact with the leadership.

Although the Shi’ite bloc and the Kurds have agreed in principle to a deal, including how much of the oil budget the Kurds will get, the details have yet to be worked out and signed.

“If they don’t come up with something in the next 10 days, they are going to be in trouble,” said the Kurdish source, who has businesses in both Baghdad and the northern autonomous region of Kurdistan. If the National Assembly refuses to agree to Kurdish demands, he said, there will be no stability in the country.

“The Kurds will have their own way,” he said. “No one can force them. They have 100,000 peshmerga, a government in place, 13 years’ experience running themselves, and they have no need to join the rest of Iraq. They way they look at it, Iraq needs them.”

But a source close to Jalal Talabani, who is expected to be named president, said he expected the assembly would convene on Saturday to “square away the issue of president and prime minister.”

The prime minister — expected to be Shi’ite leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the Dawa Party — will then go back to the political forces and finish negotiating the formation of the new government.

“The holdup now is the ministries; who gets what ministry,” the source said.

Shi’ite negotiator Maryam Rayes said the Shi’ite bloc will likely take 16 or 17 ministries, the Kurds will hold seven or eight, and the Sunni minority — which largely boycotted the elections — will be awarded four to six, Agence France-Presse reported.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who had pushed to keep his post, may settle for something else, said the source close to Mr. Talabani, most likely within the Defense Ministry.

“I am predicting a government will meet on April 1,” he said.

“There is a great hope that this may happen, but it is not really confirmed,” said Dawa Party spokesman Adnan Ali in a telephone interview from Baghdad.

“A lot of things have been happening, but until it is solid, and they agree, you can’t really say it is done,” he cautioned.

“The holdup is because you need to agree with the other groups on the shape of the government ministries, and which position [goes] to whom. It is how you comfort everybody,” he said.

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