Iraqi Parliament Installs New Government

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Iraq's parliament approves a government that includes a new prime minister and additional representation for Sunni Muslims. The so-called unity government is to serve for four years.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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WERTHEIMER: We're listening to sound from Baghdad, where Iraq's parliament announced some good news today. After what has amounted to a five-month pregnant pause in the wake of December elections, the Iraqi parliament has approved a 37-member cabinet and endorsed a new national unity government.

The new prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is promising to crack down on the insurgent violence and sectarian killings that have increased as political deliberations lag. The key security positions in the new cabinet have yet to be named.

NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Baghdad. Hi, Peter.

Mr. PETER KENYON (NPR Foreign Correspondent): Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: First of all, just how new is this government and how unified do you think it is?

Mr. KENYON: Well many of these faces have been seen before in previous iterations of Iraqi governments. But the prime minister is new, several cabinets members are new. The biggest chance, of course, a much greater number of Sunni politicians from an alliance known as Tuwafuk(ph). That alliance took the majority of votes in the Sunni dominated areas last December.

There's a smaller Sunni group we should note, led by a man named Sallah Mutlock(ph), which is refusing to join. He gave an angry speech and several Sunnis walked out today. But the voting went on despite that.

As for how unified this government is, that's very much still a question. There's a balancing act going on among the Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties and also between religious and secular elements in the Arab groups. U.S. officials have already hailed this government as a major blow against the insurgency just by being formed, but nobody thinks the insurgents are packing up just yet.

WERTHEIMER: Sadly, and I suppose, not surprisingly, the new government was greeted with more killing today. What happened?

Mr. KENYON: Well, the worst blast hit in the poor Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, a largely Shiite spot, where day laborers gather looking for work, a target that we've seen in the past. Also a suicide bombing in Kaam(ph), a rebellious city near the Syrian border, destroying a police station. And many more bodies were also found, as they are almost every day, shot execution style, some showing signs of torture.

WERTHEIMER: Peter, every interim, provisional, temporary government to date has put security at the top of its agenda and there's been almost no discernible effect. Does this government, with its four-year term, really have something new to offer to solve the problem?

Mr. KENYON: Well, we're not going to find out right away, unfortunately for some. If today's address by Mr. Maliki is any indication, he's going to take a month to unveil his detailed program of governance. That's on top of this five-month delay we've just had.

Obviously, his first week will be taken up trying to get permanent seats, permanent people in the defense and interior ministry seats. He's trying to avoid people with close ties to sectarian or ethnic militias and then we will see if he's serious about trying to integrate those militias into other jobs.

WERTHEIMER: What about priorities beyond security?

Mr. KENYON: Well there's crises going on involving electricity, gas, you name it. I think if you ask Iraqis, hopeful would be too strong a word. But many of the ones we speak with are saying something has to happen or we can't survive. So those who can't afford to leave are basically waiting to see what comes next.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Peter Kenyon speaking from Baghdad. Peter, thank you very much.

Mr. KENYON: You're welcome, Linda.

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