Iraq cabinet meets with war, services on agenda


Iraq's new cabinet has held its first meeting, a day after the new parliament gave its approval to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his near-complete ministry.

Maliki "met this morning with his ministers to tell them that his three top priorities are security, public services, especially electricity, and relations with neighboring countries," Ali Moussawi, an adviser to Maliki, told AFP.

A special gathering of the nation's parliament Tuesday endorsed Maliki for a second term in office, with lawmakers then voting one by one for 31 of the eventual 42 ministers who will be in his cabinet.

Maliki has assumed interim control of the ministries of defense, interior and national security, the portfolios responsible for assuring security after the planned pullout by end 2011 of the roughly 50,000 U.S. troops left in Iraq. Maliki does not want to extend the U.S. troop presence.

About 3,500 people have been killed in Iraq this year, although Maliki can boast of a significant reduction in violence since he took power in 2006.

Meantime, seven years after the U.S.-led invasion, the deplorable state of public services, especially electricity, remains a top concern.

Severe power rationing remains routine and sparked deadly protests during the summer as temperatures soared above 120 degrees across central and southern Iraq.

Relations with neighboring states, particularly Syria, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, is also a key concern of Maliki. He has appointed Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurdish former rebel who has been a permanent fixture in every government since the invasion, as Foreign Minister.

After the bitter sectarian struggles and divisive politics of the past five years, several lawmakers expressed hope that the new-look government would pave the way for reconciliation between warring factions.

Although Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds were represented in the previous government, this is the first time that all the major factions have been included.

Of the 35 cabinet posts finally distributed, Maliki's Shiite National Alliance bloc holds 19, the secular Iraqiya nine, the Kurdish Alliance four, and other smaller parties three.

The cabinet announced so far is made up of 20 Shiites, 10 Sunnis, four Kurds, and one Christian, according to an AFP count.

READ: Theo May reports on life inside the Baghdad military bubble.