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Iraqis Divided on New Government

Prepared by: Lionel Beehner
February 2, 2006

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U.S. officials have expressed private concerns over the poor showing by moderate and secular political parties in Iraq’s December 15 parliamentary elections, explained in this CFR Background Q&A. As cfr.org's Lionel Beehner explains in our newest CFR Background Q&A, there is evidence the Shiites may try to shut out Sunni Arabs from the more powerful cabinet portfolios, especially the ministries of the interior, defense, and oil. Sunnis refuse to accept Shiites with close ties to armed militia groups to head Iraq’s interior ministry. “We have red lines against some figures who have harmed our people," Tariq Hashimi, leader of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni bloc, told the Los Angeles Times. Shiites, however, say they will not hand the interior ministry portfolio over to a Sunni for fear of sowing greater sectarian tensions within Iraq’s already fractious police forces.

The political breakdown of cabinet portfolios does not need to reflect the makeup of Iraq’s parliament. But U.S. officials are reportedly working behind the scenes to bring in more Sunnis acceptable to all three factions. Kurds, as this CFR Background Q&A explains, also play an important role in the makeup of the new government and will likely push for more regional autonomy as parliamentarians review the constitution this spring. And smaller religious and ethnic groups, including Iraq's Christians, will push to amend the constitution's wording on the role of Islam. Cfr.org's Lionel Beehner spoke with Younadam Kanna, the Christians' sole representative in Iraq's parliament, on this and other issues. Shibley Telhami, an expert on Arab politics, tells cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman that neither the Sunnis nor Shiites may be able to overcome their sharp sectarian differences to form a united, stable government. But L. Paul Bremer, former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, is generally more optimistic that Iraq’s various factions will find a way to work together in a new federal government.

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