Sunday, May 21, 2006

Looking at the new government...

After five long months from the day we elected our representatives the government finally saw the light, though lacking two key members who hopefully will be named within a week.

The remaining part of the task requires the PM to find two independent, qualified, competent and nonsectarian Iraqis to fill the defense and interior ministries and a third for the national security ministry but five months were not enough to find such people which indicates that either such people have become very hard to find or that the distrust between our politicians have grown bigger.

As you could see from the news, the inauguration of the cabinet didn't pass without objections but that's a normal if not a healthy sign; no government can win 100% of votes unless we're talking about governments under Saddam or other shameless dictators, so it was natural to see some intense arguments during and after the cabinet was sworn in but I look forward to seeing this argument turn into a base for building active objective opposition that will work to monitor and correct the performance of the government.

However, maybe it's still early to expect too much from this, especially that a good deal of the objections were directed from within some blocs against other members of the same blocs, like the case with the Dialogue Council which lashed out at the Islamic Party, its partner in the Accord Front and went as far as accusing the leaders of the Islamic Party of "stabbing them in the back". But the spokesman of the Front said later yesterday that these objections reflect only individual positions and that the Front "is holding together firmly".

The louder objections were those of the Dialogue Front and its leader Salih al-Mutlaq who said his group didn’t accept the cabinet in its entirety and explained this position by saying that he "refused to be part of this government after being explicitly asked by the UIA to change our political tone in exchange for a certain number of ministries".

Internal splits also hit the lines of the secular Iraqi List; 5 of its 25 members (Wa'il AbdulLatif, Maysoon al-Damlouji, Mehdi al-Hafidh, KhirAllah al-Basri and Izzat al-Shabendar) were outraged by the "despotic decision of Iyad Allawi to join the government without consulting the rest of the members and in contrast with what has been agreed upon previously…".

Those members said they were shocked by Allawi's decision to accept 4 ministries (justice, science and technology, communications and human rights) because there was an agreement among all members to stay out of the government if not granted the 5 ministries they demanded from al-Maliki.
And although Fadheela Party did technically give trust in the cabinet after the dispute that erupted between the party and the rest of the UIA I still think new axes and alliances will start to form in the near future similar in a way to what happened after election results were announced.

The Iraqi 'street' although was looking up to the formation of the cabinet as something that can ease the congested situation, a lot of people still doubt the ability of the new government to handle the toughest files and many Iraqis are having a hard time choosing between trusting the new cabinet and its determined-looking head and between the feeling that what happened yesterday was a mere change of names with no value on the ground.

It is widely agreed that the greatest challenge the new government will face is security and it was clear from Talabani's and Maliki's latest statements that they realize that time is due for firm action against terror groups and armed militias; Talabani said he hopes these efforts commence sooner rather than later while Maliki insisted that efforts to deal with militias and restrict arms to the hands of the government will soon be underway as he vowed to use "maximum force" against terrorists and militias.

Other new ministers in various statements pledged to improve performance in their fields of work and maybe the most important of those promises was the one given by Hussein al-Shahristani, the new oil minister who said he'll be working on improving the productivity of refineries and putting an end to smuggling. In fact I do not doubt the honesty of Shahristani who I consider as a very clean person but I'm not sure about the circle around him or the joints far from the center's supervision; we're hearing ugly reports about the extensive smuggling operations taking place in Basra, maybe this report from Azzaman shows the depth of the corruption and the mafias running it.

In short it says that there are 8 illegal ports in the southern part of Basra controlled by 8 different militias working for Islamic parities represented in the government and that these militias use intimidation and bribes to make the 'oil protection force' facilitate the constant flow of oil that is smuggled to neighboring gulf countries.

Shahristani added that he's going to focus on exposing those who steal the fortunes of Iraq for themselves and he urged the people to cooperate with the government and report suspicious activities through tip-receiving offices, a mechanism that I think is still of controversial benefit in Iraq.

Aside from all this, I feel that this stage is very appropriate for efforts to establish a patriot liberal trend that reflects no ethnic or sectarian orientation; liberal powers can make benefit of the modest performance of the government and the divisions arising inside the religious sectarian trends especially that these divisions have had direct impact on the daily life of citizens who in turn are showing growing contempt and frustration from these blocs. I hope that today's objectors rise to the level of responsibility and act as a peaceful and rational opposition and I really think they will be able to attract more members, mainly other secular/liberal or moderate parliamentarians who unwillingly found themselves under the umbrella of sectarian or ethnic blocs.

I do believe we have a good chance to correct our mistakes and build a modern state and although the new government isn't a perfect creature it is a positive step forward mainly because it is much widely representative of the population than the previous one.

Yes, it does not meet our ambitions but also our ambitions have no limits and we must expect a lot of bumps on the road before we reach our goal.

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