Patronage roils Iraqi unity

Five months after Iraq’s last election, the effort to create a national unity government to reconcile warring factions by sharing cabinet posts among Kurds and Shiite and Sunni Arabs is foundering. The latest impediment is squabbling among the dominant Shiites parties.

The country’s new Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was expected to unveil his cabinet Sunday. Instead, a member of the Shiite Islamist United Iraqi Alliance confirmed it was pulling out of the government, angry at the way seats are being distributed.

Sheikh Sabah al-Saadi, spokesman for the Shiite Islamist Fadillah party, confirmed that his party was leaving the Shiite coalition and “nothing will convince us to change our minds. We want a good government with honest people in it.”

The Fadillah party, which controls the local government in the oil-rich southern city of Basra, grew angry just two days ago when it became clear that its favoured choice for the oil ministry, current minister Hashem al-Hashemi, wasn’t going to be awarded the job again.

While Saadi insisted that his party’s withdrawal from talks was a matter of principle, it boiled down to control of key posts, which provide access to cash and jobs for party loyalists. Asked if his party might vote to allow a new government in, despite its opposition, he said, “You’ll have to wait and see whether we put our hands up when the time comes.”

Even as a true unity government looked less likely, violence across Iraq underscored why bringing Iraq’s factions together is so vital. The worst attack was twin suicide car-bombs that struck near the front gate of the Baghdad International Airport, which also serves as the main US base in Iraq, killing 14. Two other bombs targeting police killed 10 people, most civilian bystanders, in the capital. In Diyala Province to the northeast of Baghdad, at least six minor Shiite shrines were destroyed in overnight bomb attacks. Though there were no casualties, insurgents who share the Salafy ideology of Al Qaeda, which views Shiites as apostates, have been trying to stoke Iraq’s low-intensity civil war.

In Parliament, Sunni Arabs also complained bitterly that they feel their concerns are being brushed aside by Maliki, who hails from the Dawa Party, one of the two main parties in the Shiite alliance.

The dominant Shiite alliance now controls 41 per cent of the legislature and the Kurds, who control 19 per cent, are the only natural ally who could get them to the simple majority threshold to seat the new cabinet. While the largely secular Kurds, who are most interested in the independence of their northern region, and the Shiite Islamists have little in common, legislators say the Shiites may cut a deal with the Kurds to avoid satisfying Sunni Arab demands.

Meanwhile Baha al-Araji, a Shiite legislator loyal to militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and a member of the Shiite alliance, complained that both Sunnis and Kurds are making unrealistic demands, and that “meddling” from the US government was preventing a cabinet from being formed. Also, current Interior Minister Bayan Jaber is a loyalist

of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and a former commander of its militia, the Badr Brigade. The SCIRI leaders have insisted on maintaining their control of one of the country’s most strategic posts. — The Christian Science Monitor