Iraq's New Government

When UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi set off on his mission to assemble a new Iraqi interim government, he had a clear idea of what he wanted.

The government must be run by selfless technocrats, not politicians whose priority would be setting themselves up for the coming elections. And it must be ethnically and religiously balanced, representing Iraq's three main groups of Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds.

In Tuesday's announcement of the new leadership team, Mr. Brahimi scored on the balance part, but did not achieve all he wanted on the apolitical side.

The chosen leaders are a troika in which a Sunni Muslim will hold the largely ceremonial post of president, while one Shiite Muslim and one Kurd fill the two vice presidential slots. The more meaningful position of prime minister goes to a Shiite who stresses secular rule, Iyad Allawi.

While Brahimi did get technocrats into the cabinet, the new top leaders are politicians. Three of them come directly out of the Governing Council, that unpopular body appointed by the US during the occupation.

Not only did Brahimi fall short of his own goal, he was bound to disappoint Americans and Iraqis who had conflicting interests. While Washington wanted pro-American leaders, Iraqis wanted to show their independence. While Washington favored Westernized Iraqi exiles, some Iraqis believed exiles held no credibility.

But do all of these parameters really matter? More important than Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's close ties to the CIA, or President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer's criticism of the American occupation, is what these men and their team will do about stabilizing Iraq and preparing for an elected government.

Ongoing violence in Iraq is just one reminder of the country's problems. Electricity still gives out daily in Baghdad, cars still line up for several hundred yards to get gasoline, and Iraqis still search for jobs. Progress in alleviating these problems, not their individual résumés, is what will legitimize this new team.

Fortunately, the US military appears to recognize this now. In a change of strategy, American commanders say they will deemphasize offensive operations and concentrate more on building up Iraq's own security force, as well as better protecting roads, utilities, and the oil industry.

Mr. Brahimi can be congratulated on the ethnic and religious mix of the new leadership, but now it is up to them to prove their legitimacy.

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