Conflicts Splinter Iraq's Inclusive Government
DAVID GREENE, host:
President Obama has assembled what's been called a cabinet of rivals, but he's got nothing on the government of Iraq. In many ways the motive is the same: to keep the peace between opposing politicians by bringing them all under one tent. In Iraq, keeping the peace takes a more literal meaning, since some of them were recently shooting at each other.
Cabinet posts have been distributed among Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, but that doesn't mean they get along, as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports from Baghdad.
QUIL LAWRENCE: A key condition for the U.S. to responsibly withdraw from Iraq is a functioning democratic government in Baghdad. But with democracy, functioning doesn't have to mean pretty. For example, according to insiders, the prime minister wasn't really speaking to the foreign minister for much of the past year. The anti-corruption committee of the parliament went and put the spokesman for the oil ministry in jail for 10 days last month for reasons that are still not clear.
And apparently the cabinet got together two weeks ago and decided that the national security advisor doesn't really have a job anymore. But the national security advisor insists that he still does.
Mr. MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE (National Security Advisor, Iraq): (Foreign language spoken)
LAWRENCE: That's Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security advisor for most of the six years since the post was created by Paul Bremer, the American pro-consul in Iraq. After local media began reporting that the post had expired, Rubaie called it a nasty rumor.
Mr. AL-RUBAIE: (Foreign language spoken)
LAWRENCE: Rubaie proclaimed it from the highest rooftops in Iraq, figuratively. He went to meet with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most powerful religious leader, and then held a press conference outside Sistani's house in the city of Najaf. And he kept on doing his job. When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Iraq this week, Rubaie got photographed strolling beside her.
Ms. SAFIA AL-SUHAIL (Iraqi Parliamentarian): We don't know who shall we believe. Shall we believe what has been announced by the government? Or shall we believe what we are hearing from our friend, Dr. Mowaffak al-Rubaie?
LAWRENCE: Safia al-Suhail is an independent member of the Iraqi parliament and she sees the elimination of the national security advisor's job as an expression of Iraqi sovereignty, since the position was created by Americans. But even as an elected official, she's not sure it's been done.
Ms. AL-SUHAIL: He and the government and the others, it's about time to have an official announcement to put an end to what's happening, because it's really funny.
LAWRENCE: The prime minister's office did finally announce that the national security post will expire along with its staff of several hundred. But Suhail says the final say is with the parliament, which has shown increasing confidence in challenging the prime minister.
Ms. AL-SUHAIL: We're not against the government but it's about time to have our duty. And the government should know that we are watching them and they cannot continue the way that they use to do.
LAWRENCE: The parliament recently elected a new speaker from the ranks of those who oppose the prime minister, and lawmakers stripped funding from several key planks of the prime minister's budget. But Suhail stresses that Iraq's politicians are learning to be rivals without being enemies.
Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.