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Iraqi Cabinet's Hard Path

September 03, 2003

The appointment of the first post-Saddam Hussein Cabinet should mark a significant advance toward getting Iraq governed by Iraqis. A key task of the 24 men and one woman chosen by the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council will be to persuade their fellow citizens that they are not puppets of the U.S.-led occupation forces.

Many Iraqis have criticized Governing Council members as U.S. lackeys since their appointment in July. But some council members have recently sought to distance themselves from the Americans; they should continue that practice, and the Cabinet should do it too.

Ibrahim Jafari, then the council's president, demanded last week that the occupation authority yield all responsibility for security to the new Interior Ministry. That may be a good concept, but Nouri Badran, the new interior minister, will have a tough job protecting Iraqis from burglars and robbers, rapists and murderers, with only 37,000 police officers, plus a few thousand members of civil defense brigades organized to provide neighborhood security. Training more police should be one of his top priorities.

Turning over security to Iraqis will make the 140,000 American troops in Iraq less visible targets. Since President Bush declared an end to major combat May 1, more than 140 U.S. personnel have been killed, surpassing the total killed in the war, which began March 20. Iraqis helping Americans also have been targets. Especially ominous have been the car bombs that killed many Iraqis and foreigners: at the Jordanian Embassy, the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad and a mosque in Najaf revered by Shiite Muslims.

Friday's mosque explosion killed Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr Hakim, whose brother, a member of the governing authority, on Monday demanded that the occupation be ended. Abdelaziz Hakim also told mourners at his brother's funeral that the occupiers bore primary responsibility for failing to prevent the bombing. Even anti-Hussein Iraqis have been embittered by the abysmal security in Baghdad and other cities.

The new Cabinet includes Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Arabs and Kurds, a proper reflection of Iraq's diverse and competing groups. The occupation forces need to cede as much authority as possible to the Cabinet as fast as possible. Iraqis will be more comfortable under the rule of their fellow citizens than invaders; nations that opposed the war may be more likely to provide aid to an Iraqi government.

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