“I stand solemnly before the souls of our martyrs and the precious blood offered by Iraqis, and seek inspiration from our people’s steadfastness, sacrifices and suffering – the incarceration, torture, killing and terror they’ve faced. Just as as we did away with the tyrant and the days of oppression and despotism, we will do away with terrorism and sabotage.”
So said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as he announced the first cabinet selected under the new Iraqi Constitution on May 20, 2006. The 36 ministers included Sunnis, Kurds, Shi’ites, and Christians in rough proportion to the composition of the Governing Council that the Iraqi people elected in December. But more to the point, the new government includes a virtual “who’s who” of Iraqi patriots who risked their lives opposing Saddam’s brutal tyranny. Some of the high-profile ministers include:
Prime Minister and interim Minister of the Interior
Nouri al-Maliki was sentenced to death by the Baathist regime for his revolutionary activity in the Dawa Party. After Saddam’s overthrow, he gained plaudits from his fellow Shi’ites as a leader of de-Baathification – the purging of Saddam-era officials from positions of power. But he supplemented his sectarian credentials when he helped to negotiate the sectional and factional compromises embodied in the Iraqi Constitution.
The Dawa Party, to which he belongs, is the largest faction in Iraq without its own militia – one reason why his assumption of the Interior portfolio on an interim basis proved acceptable to Kurds and Sunnis, as well as Shi’ites. Interior controls the Iraqi police.
Deputy Prime Minister and interim Minister of National Security.
Barham Salih, a close colleague of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, served as prime minister of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan after the establishment of the “no-fly zone” in northern Iraq. Salih was a long-time spokesman for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two major Kurdish factions that, combined control 54 of the 275 seats in the Iraqi Governing Council. The National Security ministry, now administered by a Kurd, is the second of the three “security” ministries.
Deputy Prime Minister and interim Minister of Defense
Salam al-Zubaie, who holds the third of the security ministries, is a representative of the Accord Front, which holds 44 of the 55 seats that Sunni parties won in December. Al-Zubaie is from the Zoba’a, an extremely prominent Sunni tribe in western Baghdad. His assignment to a critical security post is considered a curb on Sunni sectarian violence, and Shi’ite retaliatory violence.
Hussain Al-Shahristani was a nuclear scientist who refused direct orders from Saddam to help design for nuclear weapons. He was tortured and imprisoned as a result. A devout Shi’ite of widely-praised integrity, he is a confident to the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s the most Iraq’s most influential Shi’ite cleric. Al-Shahristani, in his acceptance speech, promised to fight the corruption and smuggling that plagued the oil ministry under the provisional government. He pledged allegiance to the principle that every Iraqi would share in the nation’s oil wealth.
A prominent member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI), Bayan Jabor spent many years organizing anti-Saddam activities from Syria. He was educated as an engineer. His stint as Interior Minister was marred by accusations that death squads from the Shi’ite Badr Brigades – the SCIRI private militia – were operating with impunity inside the Interior Ministry on his watch, seeking payback from former Baathists, and committing collateral carnage in the process.
Hoshiyar Zebari, a Kurd with a masters degree in sociology, retained the diplomatic post he held under the provisional government. His diplomatic skills were honed as spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) during its lengthy and bloody guerilla war against the Baathist regime.
Also, Iraq’s secular parties, united as the Iraqi List, control four ministries in the new government – an allotment roughly proportional to the 25 seats they won in the December elections. The ministries are: Justice; Science and Technology; Communications; and Human Rights. The “seculars,” led by Iyad Allawi, often arbitrate the interests of sectarian and ethnic parties.
The new ministers include four women and 32 men; 19 Shi’ites, 8 Sunni Arabs, and 8 Kurds. “All communities,” declared U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, “are stakeholders in the new Iraq.”
The announcement of the new cabinet was not without trauma. The Sunni bloc in the Governing Council includes two groups: the Accord Front (44 seats) and the National Dialogue Council (11 seats). The latter party, led by Saleh Mutlek, objected to the Shi’ite block retaining the Interior portfolio. Fifteen Sunni deputies walked out of the Governing Council meeting – making as much news as the formation of the Cabinet.
But more important was who didn’t walk out – Sunni Vice President Tareq Al-Hashemi, head of the Iraqi Islamist Party, Sunni Speaker of the parliament Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani, and the rest of the leadership of the Accord Front. The Sunni mainstream no longer fantasizes that it can seize control of Iraq through violence. They are prepared to negotiate. It is the hardliners who are isolated.
“We will use maximum force against terrorism,” Premier Nouri Al-Maliki promised.
“This government faces three major challenges, namely terrorists who are killing people at random without any respect for human life, [and] corruption at all levels by those who are stealing the country’s wealth. The third challenge is to provide services for the people.”
These Iraqi patriots have their work cut out for them.