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Sunni, 2 Shiites Given Key Security Posts in Iraq Cabinet

Times Staff Writer

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki on Thursday named the heads of key security ministries -- appointments Iraqi politicians had fought over bitterly amid increasing death tolls.

Gen. Abdul-Qader Mohammed Jassim Mifarji, a Sunni Arab, was sworn in as defense minister, and Jawad Bolani, a Shiite, was installed as interior minister. Sherwan Waili, also a Shiite, was given the post of minister of state for national security.

Sunni Arabs had insisted on the defense portfolio to counterbalance Shiite control of the Interior Ministry.

As sectarian violence has worsened, the disagreement over the security posts became the most pressing problem for Maliki’s government. Its apparent solution Thursday was part of a double victory for the new prime minister, who had just announced the death of Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi.

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The defense minister commands the Iraqi army, whereas the interior minister controls the police and some special commandos. The less powerful national security minister oversees a more general effort to combat terrorism and corruption.

Sectarian bloodshed and mistrust dominate political discourse in Iraq, where at least 40 people were reported killed by bombs Thursday in and around the capital.

As a result, negotiations for the top jobs were lengthy and acrimonious.

“It was a tough task,” Maliki said in a televised address to the nation. “There were disagreements between the political blocs and even inside the blocs.”

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After Maliki’s announcement, the three men, who were approved by Iraq’s parliament, talked about their qualifications and goals.

The most watched ministry will be Interior, which observers say is infiltrated by Shiite militias and death squads.

Bolani, who was born in Baghdad, previously worked as an engineer in the Iraqi air force. In 1999, he joined the private sector. After 2003, he entered politics, at the local level in the southern city of Nasiriya and then nationally as an undersecretary for public works. He is a member of the United Iraqi Alliance, the biggest Shiite bloc.

The Interior Ministry needs more “justice and professionalism,” Bolani said.

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Adnan Ubaidi, editor in chief of Al Istiqamah newspaper, which is affiliated with another large Shiite group, said Bolani was right for the job because he was known as a reasonable man who had “a clean reputation” and the support of most Shiite political parties.

Izzat Shahbandar, a politician from the secular slate led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, was more reserved, saying Bolani faces numerous challenges. Shahbandar said he feared that Bolani’s allegiance would be to the Shiite parties first, not the country.

“First of all, the ministry is infiltrated to a large extent by different militias of different sects,” Shahbandar said. “In addition, the administration of the ministry is not efficient.”

He added that the ministry was also suspected to include organized crime elements.

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He spoke warmly of Mifarji, however. “He’s an independent man with no sectarian or tribal affiliations whatsoever,” Shahbandar said.

Shahbandar was impressed with a recent conversation during which Mifarji said that “he just wanted to fight terrorism, no matter whether it would be in Najaf, Fallouja or Basra.”

On Thursday, Mifarji said that as defense minister, “I will be only an Iraqi and will spare no effort.”

A graduate of Iraq’s military academy, Mifarji criticized Saddam Hussein’s decision in 1990 to invade Kuwait.

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Expelled from the Baath Party and kicked out of the army in 1991, he was later sentenced to seven years in prison, Mifarji said. After the American-led invasion in 2003, he joined the new Iraqi army, quickly rising through the ranks.

For Waili, 1991 was also a formative year. After the Shiite uprising in the south, he was jailed by Hussein’s regime.

He previously headed the Basra City Council and was a member of the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council.

Waili, who has a law degree from Basra University, is a member of the Iraqi Dawa Party, which is not related to the Islamic Dawa Party to which the prime minister belongs. Waili said he would seek to expand the reach of the ministry to include border and regional security.

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Times staff writers Zainab Hussein and Saif Hameed contributed to this report.


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