IRAQI GOVERNMENT Leaders agree on new look
It's been three months since Iraqis cast their votes.
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's political leaders agreed Wednesday on the composition of a new government, marking a significant step toward ending nearly three months of political bickering that has undermined much of the goodwill generated by Iraq's historic democratic election in January.
Announcing the breakthrough, Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari said he would not name names until the Cabinet is unveiled today to the National Assembly, where it will have to be approved by a majority of the 275 legislators.
The long-awaited news was clouded by the assassination in Baghdad of one of the delegates to the assembly, the first killing of a legislator since the election results were announced in February. Lamia Abed Khadouri al-Sakri, a representative of Ayad Allawi's Iraqi alliance, was shot to death at her home in the Biqoon neighborhood by gunmen who knocked at her door and then opened fire.
Al-Jaafari said he had presented the names to Iraq's three-member presidency council for approval, considered a formality, ahead of the announcement to the assembly. The presidency council comprises Iraq's president, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, and two vice presidents, a Shiite and a Sunni.
The assembly's endorsement is also almost certain, because al-Jaafari's Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, holds a narrow majority of seats in the legislature and because the Kurds, who hold 70 seats, negotiated the deal in partnership with al-Jaafari.
However, last-minute objections by Shiite legislators to some of the Sunnis chosen by al-Jaafari suggested that further wrangling may yet defer the government's final approval, more than 12 weeks since Iraqis braved insurgent violence to cast ballots in the election.
Al-Jaafari attributed the long delay in forming the government to his efforts to reach out to other communities, including Allawi's group as well as the once-dominant Sunni minority whose boycott of the election left the community with little representation in the assembly.
"This government could have been concluded in a week by the two major groups, but it was our commitment and desire to see an inclusive government," he said.
Women included in process
The government will be broadly representative of all the country's sects and religions, al-Jaafari promised, with posts going to Shiites, Kurds, Sunnis, Christians and Turkomen. Seven of the ministers will be women, he said.
Unconfirmed reports from Iraqi legislators and media said the Shiites would take 17 ministries, the Kurds eight, the Sunnis six and the Christian and Turkomen minorities one each. Allawi's Iraqi group will not be represented, Shiite officials said, after intensive negotiations to offer him representation in the Cabinet collapsed. Instead, Allawi is expected to take on the role of opposition leader in the assembly.