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No accord yet on 2 key Iraq posts

Published May 20, 2006

BAGHDAD - Iraq's incoming prime minister failed to reach agreement Friday with political leaders on who will run the key Defense and Interior ministries but said he will present his Cabinet to Parliament anyway with temporary heads in those posts.

Nouri al-Maliki's announcement came as roadside bombs and other attacks killed 17 Iraqis.

His decision to push ahead with forming a government was yet another sign of his determination to waste no time addressing Iraq's security, his administration's top priority.

Already, he has shortened the Cabinet appointment process so that with Parliament's expected approval today, ministers can be inaugurated the same day.

After meeting with political representatives, the prime minister-designate said his Cabinet had been settled except for the two contested slots and that he would present his nominees to the 275-member Parliament today.

"We decided on the names of the ministers and we will announce them" today "except for Interior and Defense ministries. Both will be acting (temporary) ministers until we will choose the best ministers for those posts," he said.

Sunni Arabs want the Defense Ministry, which runs the army; the Shiites want the Interior Ministry, which controls the police.

In the interim, Deputy Parliament Speaker Khalid al-Attiyah said Maliki will serve as interior minister and Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie, a Sunni Arab, will head the Defense Ministry. He said they would serve for a week to allow for an agreement on permanent appointments.

Zubaie is the Sunni nominee for deputy prime minister, and his political group is part of the main Sunni Arab coalition, the Iraqi Accordance Front.

Later Friday, a senior official with the Accordance Front, Adnan al-Dulaimi, said his coalition would support Maliki's Cabinet choices, as long as they were decided on quickly to help quell sectarian unrest.

"It doesn't matter to us that they will announce the government without the Defense or Interior ministries, and appoint the deputy prime minister from the Accordance Front to the Defense post and the prime minister to the Interior Ministry," Dulaimi said.

But the final decision should be swift, he said, because "the security situation is still unstable and there are numerous acts of killing and theft."

The Cabinet list, its members or its number has not been made public.

It remained unclear what would happen if any nominee is rejected, though it was unlikely Maliki would risk presenting a deal lawmakers would not approve.

Maliki did not say when the interior and defense ministers would be chosen.

He said the posts would go to people "well known as independents, honest, not loyal to any militia or the equivalent."

Meanwhile, the second-highest ranking U.S. general in Iraq said the key to reducing violence in Iraq was to ensure that the government can revive the economy.

[Last modified May 20, 2006, 07:43:49]

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