Iraq to reveal new government, end 9-month political gap

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Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is expected to reveal his new cabinet on Monday, ending a nine month political vacuum as investors seek stability to rebuild Iraq after years of war.

Iraq has been in political limbo since an inconclusive March election, with squabbling between factions highlighting ethnic and sectarian divisions 7-1/2 years after the US-led invasion that toppled Sunni president Saddam Hussein.

A deal last month between Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs put Maliki on track for a second term.

In his new cabinet, he is expected to retain Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, the Shi'ite architect of ambitious plans to turn Iraq into a top global oil producer, as well as Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, a Kurd.

Shahristani is seen as a vital member of the new cabinet and his reappointment is important to assure investors Iraq will honor deals to develop its vast reserves.

Iraq is seeking to rebuild damaged and neglected infrastructure after decades of war and sanctions. It relies on oil for 95 percent of federal revenues and has set out ambitious targets to boost output capacity to 12 million barrels per day (bpd) over the next six or seven years from 2.5 million today.

Monday's parliament session will see Maliki name a cabinet expected to include 42 posts. The jobs will be divided among the main factions according to the seats they won in the election.

Allawi to join

Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi'ite whose cross-sectarian coalition won the most seats in the March 7 vote but who was unable to garner enough support to secure the premiership, will also join the government.

Allawi's decision, which he announced on Sunday after weeks of uncertainty, could soothe worries about renewed sectarian violence.

Allawi said he would accept a job as the head of a national strategic policy council that was offered as part of a power-sharing deal on November 10.

The agreement returned Kurd Jalal Talabani to the presidency and made Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni, parliament's speaker.

Maliki is not expected to reveal sensitive security posts, including the interior, defense and national security ministers, as nominees have not yet been decided.

"The list will not include names for the security ministries," said Ali al-Adeeb, a senior member of Maliki's Dawa party.

"Maliki may preside over some of them temporarily or he will ask some ministers to preside over some of them until he finds suitable and independent candidates."

Deputy Prime Minister Ross Nouri Shawis, another Kurd, is also expected to be selected for the government's inner circle.

The U.S. formally ended combat operations in Iraq at the end of August and there are just under 50,000 troops left in the country. Under a bilateral security agreement, the remaining soldiers are expected to withdraw by the end of 2011.

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