BAGHDAD (Reuters) -Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki said on Tuesday he expected to be able to form a national unity government within the next couple of days, ending five months of stalemate since a December election.
“Maybe today or tomorrow, we will complete the formation of the government,” the Shi’ite Islamist told a news conference.
“We have achieved much and there is little left to do.”
“We have done 90 percent,” he said. “But I want to give more time to the leaders to finish what is left.”
Among posts still undecided was the oil ministry. The sensitive ministries of interior and defense would go to figures free of associations with militias, he said, indicating the present interior minister, a Shi’ite, is almost certain to go.
Though seen as a Shi’ite hawk when named last month, Maliki insisted he was ready to reach out to Sunni rebels who laid down their arms and joined the U.S.-backed political process.
He has nearly another two weeks under a constitutional deadline to present a cabinet to parliament but negotiators have been voicing confidence that agreement among the main Shi’ite, Kurdish and Sunni factions was not far off.
Parliament is due to meet next on Wednesday.
After months of political deadlock following the election, the United States has exerted heavy pressure on Maliki’s dominant Shi’ite Alliance to form a government of national unity. Washington says this is vital to staunch mounting sectarian bloodshed and avert civil war.
Control of the defense and interior ministries has been a key issue in forming the government against a background of sectarian violence among rival militias and rebel groups.
“The heads of the parliamentary groups have agreed that the heads of these two ministries should be independent and not belong to any party that runs a militia,” Maliki said.
This would suggest that Interior Minister Bayan Jabor is likely to go. A member of the SCIRI Shi’ite Islamist party which controls the armed Badr movement, Jabor has been accused of condoning police death squads. Though he denies it, the U.S. ambassador has made clear Washington wants him out of his job.
Maliki said the Shi’ite Alliance, which has fought hard to keep control of the Interior Ministry, hoped to nominate its candidate for the post later in the day. Though nominated by the bloc, the candidate would apparently be seen as an independent.
Defense Minister Saadoun Dulaimi, a Sunni independent, is more low-key but negotiators have said he too is unlikely to keep his post.
Maliki said posts still under discussion included the oil, trade and transport ministries, all important to the task of reviving oil-rich Iraq’s crippled economy.
Maliki was nominated last month by his Alliance after his interim predecessor, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, mounted a long rearguard action to keep his job despite Sunni, Kurdish and U.S. opposition. An aide to Jaafari and a staunch defender of Shi’ite interests, he has said he will bring in all sectarian groups.
“If there are those who took up arms against the political process but did not shed Iraqi blood, I will welcome talks with them to disarm them and bring them into the political process for the sake of the nation,” he said in answer to a question.
Guerrillas who have fought U.S. occupying forces are viewed differently by Iraqis from bombers who have targeted civilians.