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Iraq: Premier-Designate Promises Tough Approach

By Kathleen Ridolfo

The background of Iraq's prime minister-designate, Jawad al-Maliki, leaves many wondering whether he will be willing to rein in rogue elements in the security forces.

The Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance nominated Nuri Kamil al-Maliki -- better known by his nom de guerre Jawad al-Maliki -- as its new candidate for prime minister on April 22, hours before the parliament convened to elect the president, parliament speaker, and their deputies.

Al-Maliki, a high-ranking official in the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party, was a close aide to outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari. The two men share many similarities, but, according to many who know him, al-Maliki is a tough pragmatist who can get the job done.

An Opponent Of Saddam Hussein

Just three years apart in age, both men were born in the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala. Like al-Ja'fari, al-Maliki was a staunch opponent of Saddam Hussein. And, like al-Ja'fari, he fled to Iran during a Ba'athist crackdown on insurgents.

Al-Maliki eventually made his way to Syria, where he continued his activities in the Al-Da'wah Party, issuing a magazine -- "Al-Mawqif" ("The Attitude") -- that supported his party's political goals.

Though many view him as having conservative Shi'ite values, some say he does not possess strong sectarian tendencies. "Al-Maliki really is a man distinguished by his modesty," Ra'd al-Kharsan, an Al-Da'wah Party official in Al-Najaf, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq on April 22. "He is devoted to and arduous in his work."

Sunnis Still Unconvinced

Still, al-Maliki's political background and recent statements have raised some concerns among Sunni Arabs. He told reporters at an April 22 press briefing that the incoming government would take steps to integrate Iraqi militias into the armed forces.

"Law No. 91 will take care of integrating [militias] into the armed forces according to rules that do not diminish the rights of those who struggled against the dictatorship," said al-Maliki, adding that 11 militias affiliated with parties and political forces are named in the law, which was drafted by the Coalition Provisional Authority in June 2004.

For Sunnis who contend they were victimized at the hands of Shi'ite militiamen, some of whom were tied to Interior Ministry security forces, the notion of merging more militiamen into the military is unacceptable.

Al-Maliki "announced that he will merge militias with the security forces instead of bringing those who committed crimes and atrocities to justice," said Muslim Scholars Association member Muhammad Bashar Amin, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on April 24. "Thousands of Iraqis have been killed by those militias."

Lingering Doubts

While the Al-Da'wah Party does not operate a militia in Iraq, al-Maliki is the former head of the party's jihad office, which functioned as the military wing of the party against Iraq's Ba'athist regime, leaving many wondering whether his administration would rein in rogue elements now operating within the Interior Ministry's security forces.

It is also unclear whether al-Maliki will be able to hold a national-unity government together. Some Sunni leaders reportedly objected to al-Maliki's nomination, claiming he was too sectarian. They later voiced support for him in exchange for Shi'ite support for their nomination of Mahmud al-Mashhadani, whom Shi'a view as a hard-line Islamist, to the post of parliament speaker.

Al-Maliki told reporters on April 22 that his government will not be formed along ethnic, sectarian, or party lines.

"Those who will join the new government should realize that they are ministers of the people and the homeland, and not the party. Second, ministers should have great efficiency, sincerity, and honesty in order to work as part of a team that will confront the developments and challenges" of the government, " al-Maliki said.

Iraqis will see if he is a man of his word when the cabinet is announced, sometime in the next 30 days.

Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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