- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced yesterday he would fill vacancies at the crucial defense and interior ministries over the weekend, despite failing to reach an agreement on candidates with Iraq’s fractious ethnic and sectarian parties.

The appointments, which must be approved by parliament, are the keystone of Mr. al-Maliki’s plan to take complete control of security around Iraq from U.S.-led forces within the next 18 months.

In violence yesterday, a mortar barrage struck a number of houses in Baghdad’s southern Dora district. A first barrage of seven mortar rounds killed nine and wounded 40, while another five rounds killed four and wounded 29. Mortar attacks are usually carried out by insurgent groups.

Earlier, a bomb struck a group of construction workers seeking jobs in central Baghdad, killing at least two and wounding 18, police said.

Mr. al-Maliki apparently decided to go ahead with the appointment of ministers for defense, interior and national security — a lesser post — to end two weeks of uncertainty. The two key posts were temporarily being held by Mr. al-Maliki and one of his deputy prime ministers since the Cabinet was sworn in on May 20.

Mr. al-Maliki said disagreements among the political blocs proved insurmountable so he decided to “present the names that we believe in to parliament to let it … decide the issue, because total agreement by all the blocs is almost impossible.”

Leaving a Cabinet meeting, the Shi’ite prime minister said “the names of the interior and defense ministers will be announced at parliament’s next session” on Sunday, ending protracted negotiations with Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

He did not divulge the names of the candidates, who must be approved by an overwhelming majority in the 275-member parliament.

Mr. al-Maliki reportedly has three candidates for each of the posts, just in case parliament rejects his first choice. The candidates come from a pool that has been discussed at length by negotiators in recent weeks.

The posts, especially defense and interior, are considered an integral part of Mr. al-Maliki’s plan to take control of security over Iraq’s 18 provinces from U.S.-led forces. The transfer is key to an overall American exit strategy that would allow the eventual withdrawal of its 130,000 troops.

It has been agreed that the defense ministry post will go to a Sunni Arab. But some candidates were rejected by Shi’ites who claimed they had ties to the former regime of Saddam Hussein, or by Kurds who said they were connected to a campaign against their community.

The interior ministry post will go to a Shi’ite. But Sunni Arabs complained that many Shi’ite candidates had ties to militias.

A U.S. military spokesman, meanwhile, said American forces are “very concerned” about the situation in Ramadi in the volatile Anbar province because al Qaeda in Iraq is taking advantage of sectarian differences to make inroads in the city.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell confirmed that about 1,500 combat troops have been moved from a reserve force in Kuwait into Anbar province, which surrounds Ramadi, to help authorities establish order.


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