News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIraqi premier and U.S. general discuss Syria and Iran

Iraqi premier and U.S. general discuss Syria and Iran


New York Times: Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq met here on Monday with Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East, as Iraqi political leaders prepared new candidates for about 10 cabinet posts, lawmakers said. The New York Times

Published: November 14, 2006

BAGHDAD, Nov. 13 — Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq met here on Monday with Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East, as Iraqi political leaders prepared new candidates for about 10 cabinet posts, lawmakers said.

In the third visit by a senior American official in recent weeks, General Abizaid and Mr. Maliki discussed the “influence of the neighboring countries on the security situation,” according to a statement from the prime minister’s office.

The reference was to Syria and Iran, which the Bush administration has accused of providing financing and weapons to militias in Iraq. But as the administration begins a broad reassessment of its Iraq policy, some — including Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, the closest ally of America — are proposing opening talks with the two governments.

At least 79 Iraqis were killed or found dead across Iraq on Monday, Iraqi officials said, including 10 commuters on a minibus who were killed when another passenger blew himself up, a photographer and two bodyguards for Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite. The military announced the deaths of four American soldiers, in Baghdad and Salahuddin Province.

Iraqi political leaders pressed ahead with a planned cabinet shuffle, presenting Mr. Maliki with candidates for the ministry posts that he wants changed.

Mr. Maliki has not said publicly which ministers he plans to replace, but he has been under pressure from the Bush administration to make progress toward stabilizing Iraq. The cabinet moves appeared aimed, at least in part, at demonstrating that he was making an effort.

Some officials say, though, that the problems among Iraqi leaders run far deeper than a rearrangement, even a sweeping one, can fix. Shiites and Sunnis are barely able to tolerate one another, and the tense relations make progress on improvements all but impossible.

It is a problem that the incoming Democratic-controlled Congress in the United States will immediately face.

“No matter how many new ministers, they are still going to have the same institutional problems,” said one American official in Iraq, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to discuss the subject publicly. American policy is about to change, and the shift will emphasize effectiveness over sectarian balance, the official said. “Instead of having a rainbow coalition, they will have people who can get stuff done,” the official said. “I think the U.S. will take a more hands-off approach.”

Mr. Maliki has not said publicly which ministers he wants to replace, but lawmakers said Monday that he had indicated they might include the ministers of health, electricity and oil. Sunnis have accused the Health Ministry — controlled by the powerful Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr — of sectarian bias. They also contend that it has sheltered Shiite militias that have carried out killings.

The security ministries — Interior and Defense — did not appear to be part of the shuffle.

“Most of his problems are with the Sadrists,” said Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer, a Shiite lawmaker from a rival party. There were also hints that two Sunni ministers and a Kurdish one would be replaced, Mr. Sagheer said by telephone on Monday.

But Adnan Dulaimi, a member of the largest Sunni bloc, said the replacements were distributed across sects and ethnicities. Ten of 36 cabinet posts were affected, he said.

Under the current rules, pressed on the majority Shiites by American officials early this year, Mr. Maliki cannot take sects or ethnicities out of the government altogether, and the blocs, groupings made up of political parties, will retain their allotment of ministries.

But Mr. Maliki can choose from among political parties within the blocs, which could mean that entire parties might be left out.

“He’s not going to reallocate the ministries to the same parties,” said Maysoon al-Damaluji, a secular lawmaker. The process, she said, could take several months.

Baha al-Aaraji, a member in Mr. Sadr’s bloc, the largest in Parliament, said it presented Mr. Maliki with 18 résumés, three candidates for each of its six ministries — transport, health, civil society, tourism, agriculture and a subministry for provincial affairs. In public remarks over the past few days, Mr. Maliki has tried to press his fractious coalition to work together better. In a speech to governors of Iraqi provinces on Monday, he struck a nonsectarian tone.

Regarding taking action against militia members, he warned the governors not to “look at his background or who he represents, or what sect or group or party he is from.”

The American military said Monday that on Sunday it captured four Iraqis suspected of killings, kidnappings and bomb attacks in a Sunni militant stronghold south of Baghdad. In a raid in Baghdad, it killed eight people and detained 41 Iraqis suspected of ties to Al Qaeda.

Iraqi authorities reported that the American military raided homes of supporters of Mr. Sadr in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Shuala, The Associated Press reported. Helicopters and jets were called in and gun battles were heard by residents nearby.

Ali Adeeb contributed reporting.

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