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Iraqis Make Progress on Key Government Posts

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. But first, in Iraq today, the parliament finally met for only the second time since December's national elections. On the agenda, electing the senior posts in the hope that this will finally launch the formation of a national unity government in Iraq.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay is in Baghdad. Jamie, thanks very much for being with us.

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

It's my pleasure.

SIMON: And what happened today?

TARABAY: Today the national assembly met in the fortified Green Zone, so it's the second time since December's elections. And they were very efficient today. They actually got out what everyone had expected them to do. They winning Shiite alliance presented a list of the names of the people that everyone had gotten together and negotiated to be the president, you know, the prime minister, the two vice presidents and the speaker of the parliament and his two deputies. And they were all voted and passed and the sessions ended

SIMON: With the advantage of at least a few minutes of hindsight, let's remind ourselves why it was so difficult to reach this stage over the past few months.

TARABAY: Well, it is worth noting that the fact that once the major obstacle was removed, it took them less than a week to get this all sorted out. And the biggest obstacle was Ibrahim al-Jafari, the interim prime minister. He was nominated in February by the winning Shiite alliance to be their candidate for prime minister again, and that was something that was very unpopular with the Sunni and Kurdish groups, and they wanted him to step aside. He'd refused to for weeks. And only on Thursday did he come out, after pressure from religious leaders in the Shiite city of Najaf, he came out and said, Okay, I'll step aside if you want me to. And within 24 hours they nominated a replacement, they convened parliament, and today we have a new presidency and prime minister.

SIMON: Tell us about this man, Mr. al-Maliki. He is reported to be a close ally of al-Jaafari.

TARABAY: That's right. He's from Dahla, the same political group that Jafari's from, and he's said to be very close to Jafari. He's also been very active in the political talks, in the negotiations, in putting together a national unity government. So the Sunni and Kurdish groups have had some experience dealing with him. They say he is rather sectarian and hardline, but they say that he's also very open-minded, and they're happy to support him and they're happy to work with him.

He, as I said, is very sectarian. He opposes federalism. And he's also very anti-Baathist, and he was part of the push to remove members of Saddam Hussein's former Baath Party out of positions in government.

SIMON: Jamie, what's the next watershed for Iraqi democracy?

TARABAY: Well, now that Maliki has been named the prime minister, he has 30 days to put together a cabinet, and that's when it's going to get really interesting to see who gets the Interior Ministry, who gets the Defense Ministry and who gets oil. Today he actually even said that the militias need to be part of the armed forces, and that I think will give an indication that his attitude to the security forces in the country and particularly the police that are under a lot of pressure and have been accused of being very sectarian here

SIMON: Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad, thank you.

TARABAY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Jamie Tarabay
After reporting from Iraq for two years as NPR's Baghdad Bureau Chief, Jamie Tarabay is now embarking on a two year project reporting on America's Muslims. The coverage will take in the country's approx 6 million Muslims, of different ethnic, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and the issues facing their daily lives as Americans.