BAGHDAD, Iraq – Under heavy U.S. pressure to end the crippling political stalemate, Iraq’s prime minister-designate on Tuesday proposed appointing a broad-based 36-member Cabinet – including a deputy premier from each of Iraq’s main Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions.
But haggling continued over which individuals should fill the seats, adding to the worries of Iraqis, many of whom feel months of wrangling over the new government has emboldened insurgents to step up deadly attacks on U.S. and Iraqi security forces.
Lawmakers allied with the premier said that in addition to the prime minister and three deputies, the Cabinet would have 17 Shiite Arab ministers, eight Kurds, six Sunni Arabs and one Christian, fulfilling promises by leaders of the Shiite majority to share power among ethnic and religious groups. Officials said at least two ministers are women.
Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari discussed his proposal with President Jalal Talabani on Tuesday, the premier’s spokesman, Abdul Razak al-Kadhimi, said. But some lawmakers later said the meeting didn’t take place. It was not possible to reconcile the conflicting reports.
Talabani’s three-member presidential council must sign off on the list before it is submitted to the 275-member National Assembly for a vote. Talabani already indicated he would not exercise his veto, and lawmakers said a vote could take place as soon as Wednesday.
However, such predictions have repeatedly proved false since Cabinet negotiations began after the parliamentary elections Jan. 30.
Late Tuesday, al-Jaafari went back for further talks with Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and other members of his United Iraqi Alliance to discuss the candidates for the Cabinet, lawmakers said.
Alliance lawmaker Dhia al-Shakarchi said Shiite leaders raised concerns that some of the Sunni candidates might have had links to terrorist groups and to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, which brutally repressed Shiites and Kurds.
Under al-Jaafari’s proposal, Iraq’s Shiites would head 17 ministries, said Ali al-Adib and Hadi al-Ameri, lawmakers in the alliance, which holds 148 seats in parliament. Eight ministries would go to the alliance’s Kurdish allies, six to Sunni Arab groups and one to a Christian faction, they said.
Fouad Massoum, a senior member of Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, confirmed most of the breakdown but was not aware a Christian would get a post.
Hoping to end the haggling, al-Jaafari decided to appoint three deputy prime ministers – one each from the country’s main ethnic and religious groups, lawmakers said.
Absent from the proposed Cabinet was outgoing Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s Iraqi List party, which had asked for at least four ministries, including a senior post and a deputy premiership. The Iraqi List has 40 seats in the National Assembly.
Shiite lawmakers said Sunday they had given up trying to balance Allawi’s demands with those of Sunni factions that could offer help in beginning talks with Sunni militants, who are believed to be the backbone of the insurgency.
Many Shiites have long resented the secular Allawi, accusing his outgoing administration of including former Baathists in the government and security forces.
Iraqi politicians have been under increasing U.S. pressure to form a transitional government so they can focus on taking over efforts to suppress the insurgency.
Speaking to reporters in Crawford, Texas, on Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said: “We’re going to continue to say it is important to keep momentum in the political process.”