Iraqis happy to have government, wary of sectarian divide

BAGHDAD Wed Dec 22, 2010 1:19pm GMT

The Iraqi new cabinet stands for an oath at the house of parliament in Baghdad December 21, 2010. Iraq's parliament approved Nuri al-Maliki as prime minister on Tuesday, giving the Shi'ite leader a second term as Iraq tries to cement fragile security gains and build its fledging democracy. REUTERS/Saad Shalash

The Iraqi new cabinet stands for an oath at the house of parliament in Baghdad December 21, 2010. Iraq's parliament approved Nuri al-Maliki as prime minister on Tuesday, giving the Shi'ite leader a second term as Iraq tries to cement fragile security gains and build its fledging democracy.

Credit: Reuters/Saad Shalash

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Ordinary Iraqis expressed relief to have a new government on Wednesday after nine months of stalemate, but hopes for stability were tempered by concerns about what they saw as sectarian fault lines in its make-up.

Weary after years of war, Iraqis have been waiting for a new government since an inconclusive March election, which triggered months of bargaining among Shi'ites, Sunnis, Kurds and other factions jostling for power.

"I hope things are settled now, and God willing things will be better," said 22-year-old pharmacist Sabaa Samir.

But now that the new cabinet is in place, nobody seems to be satisfied with its make-up. Even Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told parliament he knew his government did not meet the aspirations of the people or various political blocs.

"Regrettably the cabinet formation was sectarian and included some officials who have no background to work properly," said Rasheed al-Jumaili, a university lecturer, as he stopped to buy his morning paper at a kiosk in Baghdad's predominantly Shi'ite area of Karrada.

"Most of the names of this new government are loyal to their sect and to sectarian foreign agendas, not to Iraq," said Mohammed Jassim, 62, who owns an appliance shop in the volatile Sunni district of Adhamiya.

Several people surveyed on the capital's streets said they felt parliament had rushed through the appointments on Tuesday and ignored opposing voices.

As Maliki read out the chosen ministers' names one by one in parliament, speaker Osama al-Nujaifi had scanned the chamber for raised hands and said "approved by the majority" each time. The speaker did not ask for a show of hands from those opposing the candidate or abstaining from the vote.

WORDS LIKE GUNSHOTS

"When the speaker just said passed, passed, passed so fast, it was like gunshots fired at the people of Iraq," Jumaili said.

"Yesterday the speaker didn't even bother to count the votes when parliament voted on the ministers," said 45-year-old shop owner Ziyad Jaafar.

As he dusted the shelves of his store in Adhamiya, loud religious music playing in the background, he said the Sunni-based Iraqiya bloc had been cheated out of victory, even though it had won the most seats in the March election.

Iraqiya chief Iyad Allawi, a former prime minister, had failed to gain enough support to forge a majority.

"Oh my God, what kind of a democracy is this?" Jaafar asked.

Hatam al-Numani, an Iraqi writer aged 45, jabbed his finger at a newspaper picture of the sole woman in the cabinet, saying, "Is it reasonable that we have only one woman minister in the cabinet? Is it reasonable that Iraqi women have no role in society or in government?"

As they opened their shop doors or started their office work on Wednesday, several Iraqis told Reuters they just hoped the new government would now get down to business, provide more security and bring greater prosperity to the country after years of sanctions, war and occupation.

"We hope the government formation means the government will look after its citizens. We hope that security prevails. We hope Iraqis can find solutions (to their problems), that young people can find jobs and salaries will increase," said shoe-shine man Ahmed Dhafer, 25, as he polished a client's loafers.

Standing outside his appliance shop near a police checkpoint with his hands in his pockets, Jassim said he was cautiously optimistic despite his concerns.

"At least there is a sort of partnership in this government in contrast to the old one," he said. "Let's hold on to that glimmer of hope. We don't have any other choice."

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Saif Tawfiq; Writing by Caroline Drees; Editing by Jim Loney and Peter Millership)

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