It took a hell of a long time - five months in all - but the questions have been answered and the deals have been made, and Iraq finally has a fully functional government with executive leadership to go with the Parliament which has been wrangling over the assignment of jobs since the end of last year. The delay has been a cause for much concern, but the outcome is a validation of the new Iraqi constitution, which has proven to have the flexibility to support and encourage consensual government and coalition building which may help solve the problems of Iraq's contentious religious and political factions.
There were moments of strife and a long period of negotiation, but ultimately most of the 275 legislators seemed satisfied with a cabinet which shares power quite equitably between the major factions. At the head of the government is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He's a religiously trained Shi'ite and a former teacher of Arabic Literature who was very active in the Dawa Party and helped lead the resistence against Saddam while he was in exile under threat of death. Since the removal of Saddam he has been in charge of debaathification and has a reputation as a competent and decisive administrator.
U. S. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice said of al-Maliki, “This is a strong leader. I have met him. I looked into his eyes. This is somebody who is determined to do what is right for the Iraqi people.”
In his first speechto the Parliament al-Maliki said:
“The first challenge we face is security and how to deal with the terrorist killers who are destroying the country and shedding the blood of the Iraqi people. Those people should know that this government is designed in a way to effectively face this challenge.”
He went on to explain a 34 point plan for restoring order and the rule of law and rebuilding infrastructure. His plans are ambitious, and he conluded, “We pray to God almighty to give us strength so we can meet the ambitious goals of our people who have suffered a lot.”
The cabinet has a total of 40 members and almost every position has been assigned at this point, with appointees from all of the religious and regional factions. The only exceptions are three of the top slots, those of Defense Minister, Interior Minister and National Security Minister. These offices control the army, the police and the intelligence gathering apparatus respectively. Prime Minister al-Maliki has temporarily filled the positions by temporarily dividing them between the three main factions in the government, taking the role of acting Interior Minister for himself, giving the Defense Ministry to Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zikam al-Zubaie and making Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleb the National Security Ministry.
These appointments are temporary, but they may not be entirely the result of difficulty picking candidates for the jobs as has been represented. They may be an effort to strengthen and raise the significance of the top offices in the cabinet by giving direct administrative roles to the Deputy Prime Ministers so that each faction will have a leader in government with real power, while at the same time satisfying the requirements of the constitution.
The appointment of a cabinet doesn't immediately solve all of Iraq's problems, but it was the final step in establishing a fully functional government with the authority and the institutions necessary to complete the process of taking responsibility for running the country and eventually reducing or eliminating the need for foreign assistance and support.
The general response from Iraqis has been relief and guarded hope. Mohammed who blogs from Baghdad at Iraq the Model summed up the situation well when he wrote:
“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 more widely representative of the population than the previous one.”
That's the key to the new government. It may have taken a while to get sorted out, but it really does represent all of the people of Iraq and it does so with the inclusion and acceptance of the majority of every politically active group except for the most extreme terrorists. If the terrorists are going to be stopped and peace established it will be because this government has been able to make government by consensus and coalition work, and thereby established its legitimacy in the eyes of the people.
Much will depend on Prime Minister al-Maliki. Iraqis are used to strong leadership, and it looks like he is starting on the right foot by consolidating some power, while still sharing authoirity with the other major factions. If he can use this new unity to generate real progress in establishing security and improving the infrastructure of the nation his ambitious goals might start to look more realistic.