News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqTechnocrats eyed for boost in government

Technocrats eyed for boost in government

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Washington Times: Talks are under way among Iraqi political parties to overhaul the Cabinet and establish a new technocratic government, the prime minister’s top political adviser said yesterday. The Washington Times

By Sharon Behn

Talks are under way among Iraqi political parties to overhaul the Cabinet and establish a new technocratic government, the prime minister’s top political adviser said yesterday.

Sadiq al-Rikabi, political adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said there were “hard negotiations” to fill ministry positions left vacant when the Sunni bloc and some Shi’ites quit the government last year.

“If there is follow-through, this would be significant development and a vast improvement,” said Jason Gluck, rule of law adviser for the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), which hosted Mr. al-Rikabi.

“Including professional and technocratic ministers would be a major achievement that could lead to more effective government and an improvement in the delivery of critical services to Iraqi citizens,” Mr. Gluck said.

Mr. Gluck spent 18 months in Baghdad from March 2006 to August 2007 working with the Iraqi parliament and advising on the constitutional review.

Mr. al-Rikabi also said that Baghdad and Washington will soon start talks over the role of the U.S. military in Iraq under a new security accord framework between the two countries. He declined to give any details. The agreement would replace the U.N. resolution permitting the coalition troop presence until December.

Mr. al-Maliki has also alluded to reducing the number of Cabinet posts, which likely would intensify the political bargaining.

Mr. al-Rikabi said meetings were going on between the prime minister and the three-person presidency council, as well as between the different political alliances “to establish criteria and nominate new ministers.”

Current government members, Mr. al-Rikabi said, would have the final say over choosing candidates.

The Sunni Accordance Front, supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr and members of former prime minister Iyad Allawi’s party walked out last year, leaving 11 ministry-level vacancies.

Mr. al-Rikabi said the Shi’ite majority government was meeting with Mr. Allawi, a secular Sunni, and the Accordance Front, a coalition of Sunni parties.

“It is not an easy process,” he acknowledged, adding, “I don’t find any real progress on establishing a new government.”

The Sadrists who abandoned the government in August 2007 have shown little interest in returning, while their leader, Sheik al-Sadr, is believed to be dividing his time between Iraq and Iran.

Sheik al-Sadr wrote in a statement distributed yesterday explaining his absence to his followers that every “commander needs to be away for a while to worship,” according to the Associated Press.

Analysts say Sheik al-Sadr has found it politically expedient to be out of the country to avoid confrontation with the Americans while extending a cease-fire with the security forces.

The cleric is also now studying to be an ayatollah — top religious leader — a position that would win him considerably wider credibility in Iraq.

The Sadrists still hold 30 out of the 275 seats in parliament, and the AP said Sheik al-Sadr’s street militia number some 60,000.

A recent study by Rend al-Rahim, executive director of the Iraq Foundation and Iraq’s chief of mission in Washington before becoming a senior fellow at USIP, and Daniel Serwer, vice president for peace and stability operations at USIP, said political pressure from the Iraqi street is forcing change at the government level.

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