Incoming Iraqi Leader Optimistic on Unity Government

Iraq's Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki says he has overcome most of the obstacles to the formation of a national unity government. Al-Maliki says he expects to announce his Cabinet by the end of the week.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And we're going to spend this part of the show in Iraq, where violence, political stalemates and the threat of outright civil war are all daily concerns.

Today, a suicide bomb attack killed at least 17 people and wounded 35 in the northwestern Iraqi town of Tal Afar. In just a few minutes, we'll hear about how some Iraqis are changing their names to try to avoid the sectarian violence that plagues their country. First, the latest political developments.

SIEGEL: Iraqi Prime Minster designate Nouri al-Maliki has missed his self- imposed deadline for forming a new government, but he says the talks will be finished well before the constitutional deadline, which is May 22nd.

NPR's Peter Kenyon has that story from Baghdad.

PETER KENYON: In creating a May 9th deadline for the new cabinet less than two and a half weeks after being given the task, Maliki was setting a decisive tone, hoping to dispel some of the anxiety that built during the months of stalemate following December's election. Insurgent attacks and sectarian bloodshed soared, especially after a major Shiite mosque was bombed in February. Today, Maliki said the work of forming the government was largely completed.

NOURI AL: (Through translator) I don't want to give names because I want them to be submitted together so that the entire cabinet can be finalized. I hope that the end of this week will see the forwarding of names to the Parliament for their ratification.

KENYON: Iraqi politicians say they expect the Shiite majority to keep the bulk of the positions, including the key post of Interior Minister. The Sunni minority looks to keep the defense ministry, although Maliki said there was an agreement that neither security position should be in the hands of a party that controls a militia.

Current Interior Minister Bayan Jabr has been linked to the Shiite Badr militia, though he denies Sunni allegations that ministry desk squads are terrorizing civilians. Over the weekend the government announced the arrest of a police general whose name was given as Abdul Haneen Mahmoud al-Fezel (ph), on suspicion of kidnapping and killing Iraqis. But Jabr insists this was an extortion operation done strictly for money, not for political reasons.

Maliki says in choosing the Interior and Defense Ministers, who will control large numbers of armed men, he'll keep in mind the standing political decree to disband all militias, a decree that officials say has not been enforced. But Maliki added that no candidate is barred from serving.

MALIKI: (Through translator) We have the histories and the resumes of the officers who are nominated for the ministries of defense and interior. I'll be meeting some of them soon. I have no red line against anyone because of his ethnic or political affiliations, because this will be the government of all Iraq and of all Iraqis.

KENYON: One Sunni politician, Salla al-Moutlok (ph), says interior, defense and other key positions are still being fought over. While Maliki consistently talks about an inclusive national unity government, Moutlok says his national dialogue front and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's (unintelligible) are not happy.

SALLA AL: (Through translator) If they want to isolate these two blocks or even just our Sunni block, let them go ahead and form their government. But if they want a real national unity government, I believe we have to reopen the talks on a whole new basis.

KENYON: As the politicians talk, the body count continues to rise. Besides the Tal Afar suicide bombing today, an Iraqi judge was shot and killed in West Baghdad and at least eight bodies were found, three of them decapitated and wearing Iraqi police uniforms.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Baghdad.

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