Iraq: A Government without Defense
What a joke. It's like having a fiesta without food.
The Iraqi Parliament approved 36 ministers who will form a cabinet headed by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a member of the dominant Shiite coalition that captured a majority of the votes cast in nationwide elections on Dec. 15. But three of the most important posts in the government — the Ministries of Defense, Interior and National Security — were left vacant because Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders could not agree on who should fill them.This is nothing short of ridiculous.
Just what they hoped for.
Those three ministries are especially delicate because each controls some part of Iraq's new security forces. That gives them a central role in fighting the guerrilla insurgency, but they have been accused of carrying out sectarian vendettas as well.
Mr. Maliki decided to ask the Shiite-dominated Parliament for a vote on the other posts anyway.
The vote was the final step in the American-backed political program that began here in 2003 and culminated in full-term parliamentary elections in December. Nearly three years later, Iraq has a democratic Constitution that enshrines a federal state with a strongly Islamic cast, and a 275-member Parliament chosen for a four-year term.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador here, saluted the formation of the government, calling it a "milestone" in Iraq's history.
"Iraqi leaders worked through their differences and forged compromises to create a permanent government," Mr. Khalilzad said. "This process has been without precedent in Iraq's long history."
Sure. But, not in a good sense.
Bringing the Sunnis into the political process, and successfully training an Iraqi Army and police force to take over the fighting, have been seen by the Bush administration as the two conditions that would allow it to begin withdrawing at least some of the 134,000 soldiers here.
But events in recent months have called that strategy into question. The Sunni-backed guerrilla insurgency has churned on unabated, and terrorist attacks against Shiite civilians and religious sites have touched off sectarian killings and reprisals across the country.
The violence left Iraqi leaders isolated and embittered, and the democratic process has appeared increasingly irrelevant.
Otherwise, things are going swell.
The Bush administration's plans to reduce the number of American forces to as few as 100,000 by the end of the year has been thrown into doubt.
If 100,000 is 'a few' how many soldiers qualifies as 'many'?
The democracy was a success, but all the people are dead.
In private conversations, American diplomats and military commanders have expressed growing pessimism about the prospects for any substantial change in the conditions on the ground in the near term.
It was for these reasons that the walkout by the Sunni politicians was especially troubling. The dispute began at the opening of the Parliament, when Saleh Mutlaq, a former member of the Baath Parry who prospered during Mr. Hussein reign, stood up to denounce the decision by Mr. Maliki to call for a vote on the government without having filled the three security ministries.
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"This is not the democracy or the freedom that we came for," Mr. Mutlaq said. "I am not going to give up my values or principles in order to get ministries in the cabinet."
Mithal al-Aloisi, a Sunni politician seated next to him, told Mr. Mutlaq to sit down.
"Iraqi blood is being spilled every day," Mr. Aloisi said. "Enough speeches."
When Mr. Mutlaq pressed on, Mr. Aloisi pulled him down into his chair.
A few minutes later, another Sunni leader rose and challenged Mr. Maliki again. Abdul Nasir al-Janabi, a conservative Sunni Muslim, called on his colleagues to leave the chambers.
"We came here to solve the security issue, and we made an agreement before the formation of the government to name the ministers of Defense and Interior," Mr. Janabi said, his head wrapped in a flowing white ghutra, the headwear preferred by ultraconservative Sunnis. "But these two ministers were not agreed on."
"This is illegal," Mr. Janabi declared. "I call for our withdrawal."
With that, 15 Sunni members of Parliament left the room.
The vote went forward anyway, and Mr. Maliki's government was confirmed.
Still, Sunnis like Mr. Mutlaq said they were discouraged about their future role in the government.
"This is going to be a very aggressive government," Mr. Mutlaq said after the vote. "It is going to be a very tough government. A lot of blood is going to be spilled."