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Jordan’s king swears in new Cabinet

King Abdullah II of Jordan swore in a new Cabinet on Sunday. The group is headed by a prime minister who promised to restore the country’s reputation as a haven of stability in the Middle East.
/ Source: The Associated Press

King Abdullah II swore in a new Cabinet headed by a prime minister who pledged Sunday to restore Jordan’s reputation as a haven of stability in the Middle East, an image shattered by this month’s triple suicide attacks in the capital.

“Security and stability will remain a Jordanian distinction, despite the terrorist incident which targeted innocent people in the capital of your kingdom,” Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit told Abdullah after the brief ceremony.

He also promised to “maintain the balance between freedom and security, and we will not allow one to dominate the other.”

Al-Bakhit, an army major general for 35 years until entering politics in 1999, became prime minister in the wake of the Nov. 9 triple hotel blasts that killed 63 people, including three Iraqi suicide bombers. Al-Qaida in Iraq, the terrorist group headed by Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility.

Al-Zarqawi also purportedly threatened to behead Abdullah, according to an audiotape released on the Internet Nov. 18.

Abdullah, a close U.S. ally, mandated al-Bakhit to form a new government and wage a “relentless” war on Islamic militancy, while pressing ahead with economic and political reforms. But al-Bakhit has denied the bombings were the reason for the Cabinet reshuffle.

The new 24-member Cabinet included just nine holdovers — mainly in the economic team — from the Cabinet of Prime Minister Adnan Badran, who resigned Thursday.

Al-Bakhit, who was Jordan’s ambassador to Israel until briefly becoming head of the national security council six days after the bombings, also holds the post of defense minister.

The position of foreign minister was given to Abdul-Illah al-Khatib, a moderate politician who has served in the same capacity in previous governments.

Only one of four women in the previous Cabinet retained her post, Planning Minister Suhair al-Ali.

Eid al-Fayez, a member of the Bedouin tribe that forms the bedrock of support for Abdullah’s Hashemite dynasty, was named interior minister.

The Cabinet must seek a vote of confidence from the 110-member parliament, which Abdullah summoned to reconvene Thursday.

Al Bakhit said the suicide bombings only “strengthened our resolve to continue our pre-emptive war on terrorism and the Takfiri culture,” referring to the ideology of militants who consider other Muslims who disagree with their doctrine infidels.

Al-Bakhit said Takfiri culture was “alien to our society” and warned Jordan’s “higher interests are a red line, which no one will be allowed to trespass.”

He also promised reforms, including new laws to govern parliamentary elections and political parties. Opposition groups criticize the current laws as restrictive and aimed at strengthening state control, but al-Bakhit did not say whether the new ones would address those concerns.