Iraq's PM calls for major cabinet reshuffle

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BAGHDAD, Nov 12 (Reuters) Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called today for a sweeping cabinet reshuffle, responding apparently to his six-month-old government's failure to rein in sectarian violence and reverse economic collapse.

''The Prime Minister called for a complete ministerial reshuffle in accordance with the current situation,'' the statement said, describing Maliki's address to a closed session of parliament.

Maliki, in power for six months, had said previously he wanted several ministers changed in his national unity coalition but appeared to have run into opposition from major parties as the government struggled to halt raging sectarian violence, economic collapse and widespread corruption.

Parliament took no vote, chamber officials said, adding that Maliki gave no details on what changes he might make.

He had told Iraqi newspaper editors yesterday: ''By this reshuffle, we want to send a message to all ministers that they may be replaced if they don't succeed.'' ''The government's performance has been unconvincing,'' said the Shi'ite Deputy Speaker Khaled al-Attiya, who chaired the closed session. ''That's why the prime minister wishes to change the cabinet. What we want now is to develop its performance.'' ''The cabinet was formed to achieve a political consensus.

But some ministers have not been competent. So we need change.'' Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said there had been a ''good response'' and said the blocs in parliament, most of which have posts in the coalition, had themselves wanted a reshuffle.

He said he did not expect all ministries to change hands, though the premier's language indicated that the scope of the reshuffle was greater than the handful of posts Maliki said he wanted to reassign in August.

Not only could individual ministers be replaced but there could also be a change in the distribution of the ministries among the blocs, which was the product of months of argument after last December's election.

The spokesman for the main minority Sunni Arab bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, said there was broad agreement that change is needed. Leading Sunnis have complained their voice is not being listened to by the Shi'ite-dominated administration.

''We have yet to discuss the issues but there is a consensus that change is needed,'' Saleem al-Jibouri told Reuters.

''Every minister is open to replacement without exception and ministries may even change hands between political blocs as long -- as the balance is maintained.'' A member of parliament for the radical Shi'ite movement of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, Nasser al-Saadi, said: ''Parliament has given him a free hand to make any reshuffle he wants.'' REUTERS AKJ RK1850

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