Thursday, April 27, 2006

Iraq Cabinet within week, claims leader

Iraq's prime minister-designate, Nuri al-Maliki, says he hopes to form a government within a week after meeting Washington's top defense and foreign affairs officials and two of Iraq's most powerful clerics.

As US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld flew out of Baghdad, Maliki pledged to fill the key posts of interior and defense ministers with non- sectarian appointees.

Al-Maliki had 30 days from last Saturday to present his Cabinet to parliament for approval, but has said he wants to move faster on creating a grand coalition of majority Shiite Muslims, Sunni Arabs and Kurds to combat the violence wracking the country.

"The dialogue is still ongoing with the different parties from which the government will be formed, including on the important ministries," Maliki said after meeting Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the holy southern city of Najaf. "God willing, it will be settled next week."

Maliki also met firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, an influential political leader who condemned the Rice-Rumsfeld visit as "a shocking intervention in Iraqi affairs."

Sitting alongside Maliki, he said the new government's first duty was to ensure Iraq's stability and independence, including a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

As Maliki worked Thursday toward building a government to avert civil war, gunmen killed a sister of one of the newly appointed vice-presidents, the latest in a series of assassinations of high-level figures.

Meysoun al-Hashemi, sister of Sunni Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, was gunned down in her car in Baghdad a day after Tareq called for the Sunni- dominated insurgency to be crushed.

One of their brothers was killed on April 13, and the brother of another leading Sunni politician was also kidnapped and killed this month.

Last October, the brother of the other vice-president, Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shiite, was also murdered.

Rice and Rumsfeld arrived in Baghdad Wednesday for talks with Maliki on his efforts to draft a Cabinet, a strongly symbolic visit showing how much importance Washington places on the task.

"I think it's fair to say that all these Iraqi leaders recognize the challenges before them, recognize that the Iraqi people expect their government to be able to meet those challenges," Rice said at the US embassy in the heavily guarded Green Zone.

She said the leaders they met, including Maliki, outgoing prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and one-time interim prime minister Iyad Allawi, were "focused" and "serious."

President Jalal Talabani had last weekend asked Maliki to form a coalition Cabinet to end bloodletting that threatens to drag Iraq into civil war.

The Standard


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