by Ferry Biedermann
first post-Saddam Hussein team of ministers took office Wednesday in the midst of a rapidly deteriorating security situation.
The ministers have been appointed by the Governing Council, which was handpicked by the U.S. and British administration. Their task will not be made easier by continuing questions over the legitimacy of this embryonic Iraqi government.
Some of the reactions in Baghdad to the ministers have been quite positive, with several appreciating the technocrat character of the new team. Some see this as a welcome departure from Baathist cronyism under Saddam Hussein.
But other observers have been critical of the overwhelming presence of former Iraqi exiles in the new team.
Most of the ministers appointed now have either been trained or have worked in the United States or Britain. Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum who has been given the oil ministry is for instance a returning exile.
The Governing Council is maintaining its powers and has decided not to appoint a prime minister or let the ministers wield power as a cabinet.
"The Council itself is the government, not the ministers," a member of the Council, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, said recently. Since the Council will have to coordinate its work closely with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) under U.S. administrator Paul Bremer, it was decided to appoint technocrats to the ministries while political leadership remains in the hands of the Council, he said.
Al-Rubaie, a Shia Muslim, defended the sectarian make-up of the Council and said it would be repeated in other Iraqi institutions. This has been done in the selection of the ministers. "Choosing each group's representative in the end was brilliant," said Al-Rubaie. "Nobody is really happy but that is also why nobody will go against it."
The ministers will run the ministries, but political power on the Iraqi side will rest with the Governing Council, to whom they will report regularly. The CPA remains the ultimate power, and it is up to the CPA to decide how much power to cede to the Council.
In principle the CPA wants to avoid any confrontation with the Council, especially on issues such as the budget and the drawing up of a constitution. But many details have still to be worked out.
Nisreen Mustafa Siddiq Barwari, a Kurd, is the only woman on the team. She has been named minister for general works. Barwari has a degree from Harvard.
Ministries have been created for such key areas as the interior, finance, immigration and refugees, and human rights. But the ministers running them are largely unknown people.
Several people in Baghdad have said these ministers might be out of touch with ordinary Iraqis who spent the last 35 years under Saddam Hussein and the last 12 years under crippling international sanctions.
The main concern, though, is that the ministers succeed rapidly in restoring services, as well as security and stability in a country where a strong armed resistance is growing.
Bremer said Wednesday he hoped the ministers would quickly assume more responsibility for the running of Iraq. The CPA hopes that letting Iraqis take charge of leading their country will muffle internal and foreign criticism of the occupation. If the ministers are seen as restoring essential services such as electricity, water and telephone lines, the security situation could also stabilize.
But the ministers have been appointed at a volatile moment. The security situation itself threatens restoration of services. Both water and power supply have faced acts of sabotage. Repair teams are targeted by opponents of the occupation who want to make the country ungovernable.
When the CPA is unable to restore services and stability with all the backing of the military, it may be wishful thinking that a team of unknown Iraqi technocrats can realise those goals. Their task is made particularly difficult because estimates of the cost of reconstruction are spinning out of control, and prospects that income from oil can fund reconstruction are receding.
The Governing Council and its ministers now need international recognition. But so far the Council has been firmly snubbed by neighboring Arab countries. Iraq needs its neighbors for trade and logistical support, at least in the short term.
A new U.S.-backed resolution in the United Nations that could open the way for more international involvement could give the ministers the material backing they need. It would also help build legitimacy at home if the international community, particularly the Arab countries, can put its weight behind them. There are no immediate indications that will happen.
The 25 ministers have been chosen by the same sectarian formula as the Council itself. Some see in this a Lebanon-style power-sharing arrangement. Because of the sectarian mix in that country, the post of president is reserved for a Christian, of prime minister for a Sunni Muslim, and of speaker of parliament for a Shia Muslim.
But the U.S. and British arrangement in Iraq seems different in that for the first time it gives the majority of seats in a government to the group that forms a majority in the country, the Shias. Some Sunnis resent this, but others have an open mind on who sits on the Council, and on the new ministers.
The sectarian break-up means 13 Shias, five Sunnis, five Kurds, a Turkmen and a Christian among the ministers, as within the Governing Council.
September 4, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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