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Despite squabbles, Iraq PM set to unveil cabinet

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was set to unveil his national unity cabinet today, despite last minute squabbling over posts and earlier indications that the announcement would be postponed.

world Updated: Dec 20, 2010 18:55 IST

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was set to unveil his national unity cabinet on Monday, despite last minute squabbling over posts and earlier indications that the announcement would be postponed.

Speaker of parliament Osama al-Nujaifi said Maliki would announce the names of proposed ministers and the programme for the government late afternoon.

"We will receive the names of the ministers from Maliki today" along with the government's programme, Nujaifi said.

Nujaifi said he and first deputy speaker of parliament Qusay al-Suhail would meet with Maliki at 5:00 pm (1400 GMT) to receive the names and programme.

Parliament will then create an ad hoc committee representing the various political groups to examine the programme, he said. If the committee gives its go ahead, a full session of parliament could meet on Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, politicians had said that as many as half of the ministerial positions were still undecided as party chiefs squabbled over allocations.

The timing of the announcement too was put in doubt, with two lawmakers saying it would be postponed until Wednesday but an advisor to Maliki and a government spokesman insisting it would be on Monday afternoon.

"The problem is that many political blocs are all asking for the same post at the same time. Because of this, there is still no agreement," Khaled al-Assadi, an MP in Maliki's coalition who is seen as close to the premier, said on Monday.

"I can say that that only half the ministries have been decided so far," he added. "The three security ministries will not be presented today, and they may not present the deputy prime ministers either."

The political impasse has existed since elections in March, with a deadline looming on Saturday for a new government to be in place.

According to the Iraqi constitution, parliament must approve the names of the ministers as well as the government's programme.

Mahmud Othman, an independent Kurdish MP, said on Monday that the pan-Kurdish alliance, which holds around 50 seats in the 325-member parliament, had not yet decided on who its ministers would be.

And he said the Kurdish bloc, key to the formation of the cabinet, would not take part in the government if Maliki did not approve deals the autonomous Kurdish region signed with oil companies without Baghdad's initial approval.

The contracts were signed in 2004 but the central government in Baghdad has refused to recognise them primarily because they are based on profit-sharing, rather than the per-barrel service fees which it prefers.

Politicians had at the weekend said any cabinet proposed on Monday would not include the naming of new ministers of interior, defence and national security, meaning Maliki would take interim control of Iraq's security forces.

That is despite past criticism that the premier has steadily tightened his grip on power by grouping increasing responsibilities under the office of the prime minister.

Including Maliki's own position and that of his three expected deputy prime ministers, the cabinet will number 42, slightly larger than the previous one.

Maliki's State of Law coalition won 89 seats in the elections, two fewer than the Iraqiya bloc of ex-premier Iyad Allawi. But neither won enough for a parliamentary majority, resulting in an impasse that is still being resolved.

A power sharing deal last month finally broke the deadlock, with Maliki being named prime minister-designate on November 25 and given 30 days to name his government.

According to Assadi, the National Alliance, a Maliki-led pan-Shiite coalition, will control 17 ministries, while Iraqiya will hold nine. The Kurdish bloc will retain seven, with the rest divided among smaller groupings.

First Published: Dec 20, 2010 18:52 IST