Maliki to 'Unveil New Iraqi Cabinet on Monday'

Reuters, quoting 'senior officials', reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will unveil his new cabinet on Monday, retaining the oil minister who forged ambitious plans to turn the war-ravaged country into a top global oil producer.

Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, a Shi'ite and former nuclear scientist, will be a key member of the new cabinet.

Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, a Kurd, will also stay in his post but a final decision on a new finance minister has not been made, said sources close to Maliki, a Shi'ite.

Parliament cleared one of the final hurdles to the government formation on Saturday by lifting a ban on three senior Sunni politicians who had been excluded for suspected links to the party of former dictator Saddam Hussein.

"Today's decision will help create a suitable atmosphere to form the government," said Sami al-Askari, a prominent member of Maliki's political bloc.

Shahristani's return is a sign to oil companies that Iraq will honour contracts to develop its vast oil reserves.

Under Shahristani's direction, the oil ministry has set out ambitious targets to increase Iraq's production capacity to 12 million barrels per day (bpd) over the next six or seven years, from 2.5 million today,

"The minister of oil will stay in his place as the minister of oil," said Abdul-Hadi al-Hasani, an official with Maliki's coalition. Other senior sources confirmed he would stay minister rather than accept a post as deputy prime minister in charge of energy affairs which might be less influential.

Maliki intends to name a cabinet that is expected to include 42 posts, including three deputy prime ministers. The jobs are being divvied up among Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish factions according to the seats they won in the March election.

Two of the most prominent Kurds in the government's inner circle will be familiar faces: Zebari and Deputy Prime Minister Ross Nouri Shawis.

Still unsettled is the role of Iyad Allawi, the secularist Shi'ite former prime minister whose cross-sectarian Iraqiya bloc won 91 seats in parliament, more than any other grouping.

Under a power-sharing deal reached on Nov. 10, he was expected to take the leadership of a national strategic policies council. But he has since wavered, and said on Friday he would only take part if he was given real power. Maliki has said the strategic policies council would be an advisory body.

Senior officials said Maliki's announcement on Monday would not include sensitive security posts, including the interior, defence and national security ministers. Nominees have not yet been decided due to a dearth of qualified, independent candidates, officials said.

(Source: Reuters)

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