Iraqi Government Focuses on Security Issues

As dust settles from the death of al-Qaida figure Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the focus in Baghdad shifts to the Iraqi government and how the nation's leaders intend to fix overwhelming security problems.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

In Iraq, a momentous week has ended with a question: Now that U.S. forces have killed Abu Musab Zarqawi, the country's most wanted jihadi, now that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has completed his cabinet with three key ministers for interior defense and national security, what will Iraq's government do now to reign in the bloodshed and turmoil gripping so much of the country?

NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Baghdad.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Nouri al-Maliki is a man with a mountain to climb. Zarqawi's gone, but Iraq's still awash with homegrown insurgents, sectarian militias, assorted Islamist jihadis and criminal gangs.

This week marked Malaki's first victory. And as he announced Zarqawi's death, he signaled his intention to cash in on this success.

Prime Minister NOURI AL-MALIKI (Iraq) (Through Translator): The Iraq of today is the Iraq in which the forces of good stand up against the forces of corruption and evil.

REEVES: The question is, how? Yesterday Malaki spelled out his plans in a newspaper article in some more detail. He talks about the need for national reconciliation, reconstruction and a security plan for Baghdad.

He also outlines his plan to rid Iraq of militia groups. Militias will be incorporated into the government's security services, he says. That's been tried before, but this time, he says, it'll be done differently. Militia members will be identified at the outset, dispersed among different departments and then monitored to make sure they're being loyal to the state.

Interior Minister JAWAD KADEM AL-BOLANI (Iraq): (Foreign spoken)

REEVES: Much will depend on this man. Jawad Kadem al-Bolani was sworn in to the crucial post of Iraq's new interior minister Thursday, though this was overshadowed by the news of Zarqawi's death.

Bolani, who's a Shiite, is a burly looking man in his mid-40s. He trained as an aviation engineer and served as an officer in Saddam's military until 1999. He has a reputation for being a deft operator with a range of political contacts, particularly among the Shia.

These are skills he'll need. If Iraq's security services are to succeed, he'll have to clean out the interior ministry and especially the police. They've been infiltrated by Shiite militiamen, who are widely suspected of forming death squads, which carry out sectarian killings.

Falah al-Naqib is a Sunni Arab who was minister of interior under the Iraqi interim government of Iyad Allawi. He says reforming the ministry will be a formidable challenge.

Mr. FALAH AL-NAQIB (Former Interim Prime Minister of Iraq): If he will be able to make a decisive (unintelligible), he can do it. If he will be surrounded by political parties or political groups, which enforce him to do what they want, then he will never be able to claim the Ministry of Interior.

REEVES: Iraqi columnist Hashim Hasaan believes cleaning up the ministry will require a complete overhaul.

Mr. HASHIM HASAAN (Iraqi Columnist) (Through Translator): We need to start anew to reconstruct those apparatuses. And this is also very difficult and requires big sums of money and tremendous efforts.

REEVES: Until that's achieved, these streets in Baghdad will remain engulfed by misery. There are sectarian killings and insurgent attacks every day. Three more people died in a bombing this morning and dozens were wounded.

Ismil Zaer, editor of al-Sabah al-Jadid(ph) newspaper, says most Iraqis now feel helpless.

Mr. ISMIL ZAER (Editor, Al-Sabah Al-Jadid Newspaper): We didn't have anything but hope. This is a very big, big problem. I don't know if the American audience will really understand what I mean. But what else we have?

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Baghdad.

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