- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials said yesterday that a new government to be announced as early as tomorrow will include a new Ministry of National Dialogue, in an effort to stop the sectarian killings and violence that has spread through most of the country.

But the effort might fall short, because Sunni leaders are not satisfied with the Cabinet lineup cobbled together after months of closed-door negotiations.

“To be honest, I am not very happy. I feel we have not changed much,” said Saleh al-Mutlaq, a top Sunni leader. “The government is one based on sectarian, narrow-minded parties. It is not going to solve the security on the street or reduce the corruption.”

He said the Sunnis were willing to continue working with Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki, adding that the Sunnis had been offered three ministries: the environment, women’s affairs and national dialogue.

Negotiations over who will take which Cabinet post have been going on since the Dec. 15 national elections, with all the political factions demanding a role.

A member of the ruling Shi’ite majority United Iraqi Alliance said Mr. al-Maliki has tried to form a government of national unity that can rule Iraq effectively for the next four years.

“It is not necessary that all [political] blocs are presented in the government, or it might be a government that is too heavy to move,” said Qassim Dawood, whose name has been mentioned as an Interior Ministry candidate.

“Like any compromise, you cannot please everyone,” he said.

U.S. officials have been pushing for a government that would balance Iraq’s ethnic and religious divisions, saying that is the key to ending the daily bomb attacks against Iraqi civilians and Iraqi and U.S. forces.

Mr. Dawood, who belongs to the same party as Mr. al-Maliki does, dismissed the idea of a Ministry of National Dialogue.

“It’s a silly idea,” he said. “We have a parliament, with all the blocs representing most of the fragments of Iraqi society, so let them dialogue.”

Four U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter died yesterday when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle northwest of Baghdad, the military said.

The military also reported running gunbattles for the seventh straight day between U.S. troops and insurgents in southeastern Ramadi, the capital of the Sunni Anbar province.

Critics of the emerging government said a strongly Shi’ite religious government would not ease the insurgency.

“We were hoping that technocrats and experts would be chosen. It would have been better for the country,” said Issam Kadhum al-Rawi, a member of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars and the Association of University Lecturers.

“But they chose the wrong people. We wanted experts, not religious people,” Mr. al-Rawi said. “I am afraid everything will get worse and worse.”

He said there was still no decision on who would lead the powerful Interior and Defense ministries.

Earlier, those close to the government talks had said Mr. al-Maliki would pick a Shi’ite to lead the Interior Ministry and a Sunni to lead the Defense Ministry.

Current Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, who is accused by many of allowing Shi’ite death squads to operate, is expected to move over to the Finance Ministry, Mr. al-Rawi said. But many on the street think Mr. Jabr will continue to hold the reins of the intelligence branch.


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