- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2006

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s prime minister-designate has proposed to take over temporarily the powerful ministries of interior and defense in order to end a crippling political stalemate and move ahead with the formation of a new government.

Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, would command the two ministries for an “interim” period of as little as one week while the political parties continue negotiations on who will serve as permanent ministers, officials close to the talks said yesterday.

“This is temporary until they reach a solution and find the right people,” said former government member Mahmoud Othman.

The chief of staff to President Jalal Talabani predicted the makeup of the new government could be announced on Sunday or Monday.

Mr. Othman said Mr. al-Maliki would simply hold on to the interior and defense ministries until a political deal is concluded.

“They are still negotiating these things. There is no full agreement. It will be solved a soon as possible — maybe it will take a day, or a week, but I don’t think it will be for very long,” said one Baghdad-based official close to the talks.

“Hopefully it will end before the end of next week,” Mr. Othman said by telephone from London.

Mr. Othman said the political parties have already agreed that the interior ministry — which controls the police and certain other security forces — will go to a Shi’ite, while the defense ministry will go to a Sunni. But infighting continues over which parties and individuals will get the posts, with Sunnis pressing for a more secular Shi’ite at the interior ministry.

“I think [Mr. al-Maliki’s move] helps get the rest of the process moving,” said another official close to the government talks, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “You can’t get bogged down because of two ministries. This is not a grab for power, it is to keep the process moving.”

The first official said several names have been mentioned for the two crucial posts. Among the contenders for interior minister are the current national security adviser, Muwafaq al-Rubaie, former Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi, and Qassim Dawoo.

The strongest candidate for the defense ministry so far, said the official, is the Sunni former head of parliament, Hashem Hassani, even though he lacks a military background.

“That is the whole idea,” said the second official, also speaking on the condition that his name not be revealed.

One of the many complaints against the security ministers is that they are affiliated with political parties that operate strong militias, prompting suspicions that the security forces are being used for partisan purposes and score-settling.

Another contentious post is that of oil minister, but Mr. Othman and other officials said they thought that issue would be resolved more easily.

A key contender for that job is Shi’ite nuclear physicist Hussein Shahrastani.

Mr. al-Maliki’s proposal came as Mr. Talabani condemned the staggering level of terrorist killings, which reached 952 across Iraq last month, including many who were tortured by sectarian death squads.

“The violence is tragic,” said Hanna Edwar, a women’s rights activist who has been fighting for more women in government. “On every corner of the street, there is a body full of blood.”

Mrs. Edwar, the secretary of the Iraqi Al-Amal Association, which works to foster nonviolence and respect for human rights, was not confident that Mr. al-Maliki’s move would end the daily torture and killings, large movements of displaced people and the constant car bombs.

The politicians, she said, appeared to be more interested in serving their own parties’ interests than the good of Iraq. “They don’t want to see people with real qualifications, they are looking from inside their circles,” she said.

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