BAGHDAD — Iraq's defense minister has announced that all employees of the ministry, from the highest officials to the lowliest soldiers, will be required to remain politically neutral.

Officials in the ministry will be required to sign pledges stating that they will not run for political office, work on political campaigns, attend political demonstrations, or join any political organizations, the minister, Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi, said at a news conference on Thursday. It was not immediately clear if soldiers and other employees would have to sign the pledge.

"The Ministry of Defense is committed to a military without party or political affiliations," Obeidi said. "The Iraqi people are soon to have provincial elections as well as elections at the district and commune levels. Military men must be nonaffiliated and must not be involved in the elections except in guarding the voter's right to freedom."

Obeidi's news conference was widely perceived as an open rebuke to Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, who founded the Iraqi Constitutional Party in 2005.

Iraq's ministries have been highly politicized since shortly after the 2003 invasion, when they were divided up primarily by sect and ethnicity, although a few ministers were appointed because they were technocrats.

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The degree of sectarianism within the ministries varies considerably. While some have a clear majority of one sect or the other or a clear ethnicity, others have strived to hire in a more unbiased way. For instance, both the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry have officials who are Sunni, Shiite and Kurd.

However, some other ministries, notably the Health Ministry, which for a long time was dominated by employees loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, had a culture that either made it uncomfortable for, or actually pushed out, Sunni employees.

The Interior Ministry has been viewed as primarily a bastion of Shiite militias. But since it also had a period when it was run by Sunnis, it still has fiefs within. There have been improvements lately, but the ministry remains troubled. Though Bolani officially stepped down as party leader when he was named interior minister, he retains considerable power. And the Iraqi Constitutional Party has become increasingly active over the last four months, opening offices in Nasiriya, Basra, Anbar, Babil, Diwaniya and Maysan provinces. There have been reports of provincial police officers rushing to join the party because of its connection to the interior minister.

An official in Diyala Province, who spoke on condition of anonymity said in an interview that the Iraqi Constitutional Party illegally interferes in the hiring of policemen.

Lamis Abdul Jabbar, head of the Iraqi Constitutional Party in Basra, said party law does not permit police officers or soldiers to be members. "If a police officer visits an office of our party, he does so as a supporter or fan of our party but not as an active member," he said in a phone interview. "Some of them think that Mr. Bolani is still the head of the party, so they may think it is better for their careers to be members in our party."

Riyadh Mohammed contributed reporting from Baghdad, and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from Diyala.

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