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Cabinet Appointed by Iraqis

The 25 new ministers are to take over day-to-day government, but what real power they will have under U.S. occupation remains vague.

September 02, 2003|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — The U.S.- appointed Iraqi Governing Council took a broad jump Monday toward restoring self-rule when it named 24 men and one woman to a provisional Cabinet to take over the day-to-day running of the government from American occupiers.

What actual power the council and the new ministers have remains vague, and many Iraqis view both bodies as little more than fronts for foreign invaders. But the long-awaited creation of a new governing framework gave momentum to Iraqis' demands to retake control of their country in the wake of three devastating acts of terrorism last month that left the impression the U.S.-led coalition is unable to rule what it has conquered.

Some council members groused that the Cabinet should have been chosen at least a month ago and that its 25 portfolios were distributed more along ethnic and political lines than on the basis of ministers' professional abilities.

But even those who saw the new government as imperfect celebrated its emergence and the hope it holds out that Iraqis can take care of their own affairs and hasten an end to the occupation.

Since the country remained in mourning following Friday's terrorist killing of a Shiite leader, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr Hakim, the Governing Council issued only a list of the 25 ministers' names -- most little-known figures or returned exiles -- without fanfare.

Still, the newly empowered politicians spoke about the need to get down to the difficult work of rebuilding a nation shattered by the U.S.-led war, then looted by criminals and left vulnerable to sabotage and violence by foreign terrorists and remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime.

"I'm not very satisfied with the way it happened, but at least it happened," Rajaa Habib Khuzaai, an obstetrician from Diwaniyah, said of her fellow council members' focus on ethnic diversity. "I'm especially unhappy that there is only one woman minister."

But she said the deliberations went smoothly and that the wheels of government are now turning -- a demonstration for Iraqis that progress is being made back to independence.

"This government will represent Iraq and in due course our sovereignty will be restored," said Safeen Dizayee, a diplomat with the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which inherited responsibility for foreign affairs.

The diplomatic portfolio will be an essential one, Dizayee said, as designated Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, the party's spokesman and international affairs advisor, will be the face Iraq presents to a world that has changed dramatically in the 12 years that this country was ostracized by sanctions.

Iraq had only 60 missions abroad and 3,000 employees of the Foreign Ministry before the war, deployed along the diplomatic lines drawn by the Cold War, Dizayee said. With new countries created by the demise of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and the overthrow of communism in Eastern Europe, the new Iraq emerging from 35 years of dictatorship needs to forge new regional friendships and repair ties with the democratic world, Dizayee said.

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Diversity in Ministries

Of the 25 ministries, Shiites will control 13. Kurds won control of five, and fellow Sunnis in the Arab community gained an equal number. One Turkmen and one Assyrian Christian round out the Cabinet.

The key Interior Ministry post went to Nouri Badran, a Shiite Arab aligned with Iraqi National Accord leader Iyad Allawi, the Governing Council member responsible for security.

Helping Iraq break out of the prevailing security vacuum is a major priority for the new governing bodies and the No. 1 demand and expectation of Iraqis sick of the crime and violence that have plagued them during the more than five months since the U.S.-led invasion. Hussein released 30,000 prisoners on the eve of the war, and looters and saboteurs have had a free hand since the former army and police force were disbanded.

The sole woman in the Cabinet, Nasreen Mustafa Sadiq, is a Kurd who lately served as minister for migration and refugee affairs in Kurdistan, the northern provinces of Iraq that enjoyed de facto independence due to a U.S.- and British-patrolled "no-fly" zone imposed after the Persian Gulf War in 1991. She will be minister for public works.

The 25 council members had indicated late Thursday that they were close to announcing the Cabinet, which in turn will appoint senior ministry officials and hire staffs to get public services and industry working. But the Friday car bombing in Najaf that killed Hakim and more than 100 others shocked the country and halted the work of the grief-stricken council.

The U.S. civilian administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, had been on vacation in the United States when the bombing occurred -- the third attack after an Aug. 7 bombing at the Jordanian Embassy here that killed 17 people and a blast at U.N. headquarters Aug. 19 that killed 23. Bremer returned to Baghdad Sunday and met with council members early Monday to push them to announce their appointments despite the mourning period, council members said.

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