|Nouri al-Maliki, left, and Ayad Allawi had previously disagreed on who should form the new government [Reuters]|
Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, has submitted a partial cabinet to parliament, clearing a hurdle to the formation of a new government more than nine months after national elections.
Nearly one-third of the nominees awaiting endorsement on Tuesday were only acting ministers; crucial portifolios of defence, interior and national security are without nominees.
Analysts say the move is intended to buy time to work out disagreements over some of the positions with the faction loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia religious leader opposed to US presence in the country.
Without the backing of al-Sadr, al-Maliki would not have had enough support to try to form the government in the first place.
Parliament was expected to vote on the list of 42 ministers and other senior government posts as early as Tuesday, according to Osama al-Nujaifi, the parliament speaker and a member of the Iraqiya alliance that won the most seats in the March 7 election.
Until this month, the Iraqiya alliance bitterly fought to prevent al-Maliki from keeping his job, insisting its leader, Iyad Allawi, should have the first shot at forming a government.
At a joint news conference on Monday night, al-Nujaifi, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with al-Maliki, said the prime minister had met his obligation to designate Iraq’s new leadership by the constitutional deadline of Saturday.
“I am very happy today,” al-Maliki said. “What has happened today is new evidence that we, as Iraqis, cannot continue our differences forever.”
Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, reporting from Baghdad, said al-Maliki will be the acting minister of defence, interior and national security “until appropriate candidates are found”.
“This is likely to be a controversial move because the prime minister’s critics have been accusing him of what they see as attempts to consolidate his power and have complete control over the security file,” our correspondent said.
“Still, there’s expected to be some relief in certain quarters among the Iraqi population. People have waited nine months to finally see a government in place to bring them basic services, welfare payments and jobs that have yet to be allocated because of the delay in government formation.
“But concerns linger over the ability of this government to take any effective decisions given the sectarian nature along which the various positions were distributed.”
Although 13 of the posts were given to acting ministers, al-Nujaifi’s endorsement suggested that Iraqiya was on board. Officials said all but three of those posts will be filled with permanent candidates by Saturday.
The Sadrist alliance with al-Maliki has been tenuous and was brokered only this fall by Iran. The two sides had been enemies since 2008, when al-Maliki launched an offensive crushing al-Sadr’s militia in Baghdad’s Sadr City district and the southern city of Basra.
“We had information that al-Maliki was trying to appoint a person who is hostile to the Sadrists,” Amir al-Kinani, a legislator belonging to the Sadr faction, said late on Monday. “We have supporters and we do not want our people to be provoked.”
But al-Kinani said those worries were assuaged by the night’s end: “This issue has been settled.”
Other legislators said they, too, were irritated that al-Maliki did not present a cabinet with names of candidates for all 42 posts.
“An agreement should be reached on all security posts,” Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish politician, said. “Why should they remain open and with the prime minister for an unspecified period of time?”
Al-Maliki, who has served as prime minister since May 2006, said the delays would ensure all parties are fairly represented in the government.
“The formation of national unity government in Iraq is a difficult and hard task because we need to find place in the government for all those who participated and won in the elections,” he said, speaking just hours after legislators gloomily predicted further delays.