BAGHDAD (Reuters) -Fresh mortar attacks and the discovery of six bodies in Baghdad on Sunday highlighted the security challenge still facing Iraqi leaders after they broke months of political deadlock to appoint a new prime minister.
Jawad al-Maliki, chosen on Saturday, has a month to form a cabinet sharing power among Shi’ites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds and his choices for key posts, such as interior minister, are seen as critical to uniting Iraqis and winning their trust.
“Overcoming this impasse of forming the government doesn’t mean solving all the political crises in Iraq,” Saleem al- Jubouri, a professor at Baquba’s Diyala University, said on Sunday.
“Maliki has tough issues to deal with — occupation, regional intervention, armed militias and illegal detention centers.”
Underlining the security crisis, a mortar attack killed at least five people near the Defense Ministry on Sunday, within earshot of the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to Maliki and other government leaders.
And police found the bodies of six young men, shot in the head, in Baghdad’s Sunni district of Adhamiya where sectarian tensions sparked gun battles last week.
Many Iraqis who live outside protected areas such as the Green Zone are skeptical about their political leaders.
“I don’t know Jawad al-Maliki. Time will prove who he is, whether he is efficient or not,” said Samir Abdalla, 25, in the Kurdish city of Arbil.
“All politicians when they occupy government posts say a lot, but achieve nothing.”
Khalid Hussein, a 53-year-old Kurdish peshmerga guerrilla said: “I don’t care who is the prime minister. All I care about is stability, security and gas.”
The formation of a government of national unity bringing together the main religious and ethic groups is widely seen as essential for heading off a civil war after spiraling sectarian violence since a Shi’ite shrine was bombed in February.
Maliki’s choice of cabinet, and his own post, must still be confirmed by the 275-seat parliament.
He was asked to become prime minister and form a government by President Jalal Talabani on Saturday, ending months of bickering over key posts in a new administration.
Maliki, a proven behind-the-scenes player who has helped shape postwar politics, must also rescue the oil-rich economy, which has been starved of foreign investment by the unrest.
The leading Shi’ite Alliance chose Maliki — an official in the oldest Islamist party al Dawa — after its original candidate, interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, bowed out under pressure from Sunni and Kurdish parties.
Washington hopes a national unity government will foster stability and enable it to start bringing home its more than 130,000 troops, with Congressional polls looming in November.
“This historic achievement by determined Iraqis will make America more secure,” President George W. Bush told reporters in California on Saturday.
“The United States and our coalition partners will work with the new Iraqi government to reassess our tactics, adjust our methods and strengthen our mutual efforts to achieve victory in this central front on the war on terror,” he said.
Washington has already publicly urged Maliki to ensure his ministers are competent, unifying and strong leaders.
A particular test will be his choice of interior minister, after Sunni leaders accused the Shi’ite-run ministry of condoning death squads targeting Sunnis, a charge it denies.
Another will be the choice of oil minister, who will play a key role in sharing out the benefits of the massive reserves.