Maliki Fails to Name Key Cabinet Picks
As bloody attacks continued across Iraq, leaving dozens dead, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki again failed to announce appointees for Iraq’s powerful security ministries Sunday, missing his latest self-imposed deadline since naming the rest of his Cabinet last month.
Maliki withdrew his list of candidates for the ministries of defense, interior and national security before a scheduled parliament meeting in response to opposition within his Shiite Muslim political bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance. Opponents of the selection demanded that the prime minister choose candidates from the group’s list of favorites.
“Unless there is a compromise, they will not be able to fill these posts,” said Iyad Samarrai, a top Sunni Arab negotiator. “So really we are back to square one.”
The continuing turmoil over leadership of Iraq’s military, police and intelligence institutions threatens to deepen the worsening security situation in the country. Deaths reported Sunday included the execution-style slayings of 24 people, most of them young Shiite university students and elderly men, who had been passengers on a bus near Baqubah.
Iraqi police said masked gunmen set up a roadblock with two cars and ordered the men off the bus before shooting them. The assailants separated Sunni Arab men from the group before shooting the Shiites, according to a witness interviewed by the Associated Press.
“On behalf of Islam, today we will dig a mass grave for you,” the witness said the gunmen told their victims. “You are traitors.”
Meanwhile, in the southern city of Basra, where Maliki announced a monthlong state of emergency last week, members of the mostly Shiite police force killed at least seven men inside a Sunni Muslim mosque. Sunnis in the area disputed police officials’ contention that the victims were armed.
The incident took place 200 yards from a market where a massive suicide car bomb Saturday killed at least 32 people.
The U.S. military, reeling from allegations that American troops killed unarmed Iraqi civilians in the western towns of Haditha and Hamandiya and in the village of Ishaqi, north of Baghdad, reported that an artillery round went astray during a training exercise near Tikrit, killing three civilians.
In Ramadi, a civilian was killed during a gunfight between insurgents and U.S. forces, according to a physician at Ramadi General Hospital. Iraqi police sources said a woman and a child were severely injured and a Humvee was destroyed during the half-hour confrontation in the western town.
U.S. military officials also announced the death of a man arrested by the 2nd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Division, during a mission in Baghdad that netted 19 suspected insurgents. The detainee said he was having difficulty breathing while being processed and was transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead of a heart attack, military officials said.
In Buhriz, south of Baqubah, Sunni insurgents killed three Shiite residents, officials said. Shiites in the area said they had received earlier threats to leave. In Kirkuk, a bomb killed a policeman and hurt two other people.
And in north Baghdad, police found seven corpses, all of them handcuffed, blindfolded and shot execution-style.
As sectarian violence continues to surge, Maliki is finding himself caught between his Shiite alliance on one side, and U.S. officials, Sunni Arabs and Kurds on the other.
U.S., Sunni and Kurdish officials have urged Maliki to choose security ministers who are independent of paramilitary groups that are prevalent in the Iraqi security forces and accused of committing human rights abuses.
Maliki’s candidates were accepted by Sunnis and Kurds, but were rejected by his bloc and withdrawn before he brought them to a formal parliamentary vote, according to politicians familiar with the process.
The episode revealed the strength of constraints imposed upon Maliki by his alliance and, more troubling, by Shiite militia groups intent on preserving their influence in Iraq’s security institutions, Shiite politicians familiar with the talks said.
“While it is true that the prime minister represents the national unity government and that he should try to negotiate a solution that is acceptable to everyone, he should understand that his first responsibility is to the UIA and the alliance’s process,” said Jinan Jasim Ubaidi, a Shiite alliance member.
Maliki’s candidates were Farooq Araji for interior minister, Abdul Qadir Makhraji for defense and Shirwan Waeli for minister of state for national security.
Araji, an Iraqi army veteran jailed and released for alleged political opposition to Saddam Hussein, drew the most criticism from some Shiite bloc members. They alleged that Araji, a political independent, served in a military unit that identified and executed deserters during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
Araji could not be reached Sunday to comment on the accusations.
Shiite leaders Sunday proposed an alternative list of candidates for the security ministries to present to the full parliament. But Sunni Arab politicians supported Araji’s candidacy and said that Shiite opposition to the former officer stemmed from a desire to hand the Interior Ministry to a partisan appointee.
“A person shouldn’t be rejected unless there are real reasons for this rejection.... It shouldn’t be an excuse to bring their own people for these positions,” Sunni negotiator Samarrai said.
Shiite parliament member Haider Abadi said that disagreements between Shiite political parties and their component paramilitary groups were creating challenges for Maliki.
“I think there are now political tensions between the militia wings and the political wings of these groups,” Abadi said.
Shiite politicians gave varying timelines for a final decision on security ministry candidates.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” said she was optimistic Maliki would complete his Cabinet postings soon.
“And when they get it right -- and they will get it right -- everybody will forget how long it took them,” she said. “What will matter is that they have the very strongest ... defense and interior ministries.”
Maliki and his two deputies have been temporarily heading the three security ministries since he named the rest of his Cabinet on May 20.
Times staff writers Caesar Ahmed and Saif Hameed and special correspondent Ali Windawi in Kirkuk contributed to this report, along with special correspondents in Baghdad, Baqubah and Al Anbar province.