Sunnis Put Forward Candidate for Iraq Deputy Premier

An alliance of Sunni Arab parties on Saturday announced that it was putting forward a candidate for the post of deputy prime minister, pressing their bid for key jobs in government.

The announcement that lawmaker Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie would be nominated for one of the four deputy premierships came a day after Shiite and Kurdish officials said Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki would announce the new Cabinet on Tuesday.

CountryWatch: Iraq

"He is the Sunni Arab choice," said Salman al-Jumaili, spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front, a grouping of three top Sunni parties. "We have all agreed on him."

Sunnis have been pressing for top Cabinet jobs, an effort bolstered by U.S. calls for greater integration of Sunnis in the new national unity government as a way to marginalize insurgents and draw potential recruits away from their ranks.

They already hold one of the two deputy prime minister positions under the current administration of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

The meeting Friday night between al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd and two top Shiite leaders did not include any Sunni Arab politicians.

On Saturday, Sunni politicians expressed doubts over the May 9 date, despite the nomination of al-Zubaie, the head of the Agriculture Engineers Union and a member of the Sunni group, the General Conference of the Iraqi People.

"We do not expect that the government will be announced on Tuesday, or even Wednesday, because discussions are ongoing," said lawmaker Nasser al-Ani of the Iraqi Islamic Party.

Sunni politicians have expressed an interest in the defense, interior or oil ministries. More recently, they have set their sights on the Foreign Ministry, arguing that it would be unfair for Kurds to hold the presidency and the foreign ministry, which has been headed by Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd since 2003.

In a joint interview Friday with Al-Arabiya television, Zebari and Sunni Arab lawmaker Saleh al-Mutlaq clashed over the issue, with Zebari saying Kurds deserved the ministry "due to our long struggle" against Saddam Hussein's regime.

Al-Mutlaq described the talk of an impending Cabinet announcement "as a sword over our neck" and complained about the system of allocating top posts along religious or ethnic lines.