Cabinet deal falters as nominee rejects job

IRAQ’S parliament approved six new ministers yesterday, hoping to fill the political void that has stoked the insurgency, but one minister turned down the job, leaving the Cabinet still incomplete three months after polls.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari had announced the Cabinet was complete after months of bickering to agree the balance of power between competing sectarian and ethnic blocs, and vowed to crack down on an escalating insurgency.

But proposed Human Rights Minister Hisham al-Shibli told Reuters he had been picked purely to placate Iraq’s restive Sunni Arab minority, and said he was rejecting the post.

“This post was given to me without anyone consulting me. I was surprised when they nominated me. It was just because I am a Sunni,” he said. “This is something I reject completely. I am a democratic figure ... and I am completely against sectarianism.”

The Sunni Arab minority dominated Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s rule but was sidelined after the elections, when most Sunni Arabs stayed away from the polls due to a boycott and fears of insurgent violence. There are only 17 Sunni Arab lawmakers in the 275-member parliament.

Wary of fuelling sectarian and ethnic tension and determined to defeat an insurgency dominated by Sunni Arab guerrillas, the Shi’ite and Kurdish blocs that dominate parliament pledged to include several Sunni Arabs in Cabinet.

The confusion over the human rights portfolio is the latest embarrassment for Iraq’s leaders, who have infuriated many Iraqis by taking so long to agree a Cabinet.

Other appointments announced included the important defence and oil ministries.

Saadoun al-Dulaimi, a Sunni Arab former military officer with tribal ties to Iraq’s rebellious western Anbar province, was named defence minister.

A Sunni Arab was also appointed to the industry ministry, and a Sunni Arab deputy prime minister was named to join Shi’ite and Kurdish deputies already appointed.

A respected Shi’ite official, Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, was named oil minister, a key post in the oil-rich nation.

“Our new motto in the ministry is fight corruption and boost production,” Bahr al-Uloum told a news conference.

Insurgent attacks escalated over the past 10 days, with at least 300 people killed in suicide attacks and bombings.

Gunmen assassinated senior transport ministry official Zobaa Yassin as he drove to work yesterday.

On Saturday, al-Qaida’s network in Iraq hit a foreign security convoy with a car bomb in the heart of Baghdad, killing at least 22 people including two Americans.

The previous day, a suicide car bomb at a vegetable market in Suwayra, south of Baghdad, killed 31 people. The US military said it had struck back against insurgents in the western town of Qaim on the Syrian border, killing six and capturing 54 in a raid yesterday.

Later, a government statement said that security forces had captured Amar al-Zubaydi, a key aide to the al-Qaida leader in Iraq, Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

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