Lebanon appoints new army chief
Beirut, August 30, 2008
The Lebanese government appointed a new military commander on Friday, a government source said, filling a post which has become a stepping stone to the presidency.
Jean Kahawaji, a Maronite Christian, replaces General Michel Suleiman, who was elected president in May as part of a Qatari-mediated deal that ended Lebanon's political crisis.
The decision was taken at a meeting of Lebanon's new national unity cabinet, which was also formed as part of the Doha agreement.
Kahawaji, who currently commands an army brigade, will be promoted to general from his current rank of brigadier general.
Suleiman's predecessor as head of state, Emile Lahoud, had also been army chief before becoming president - a post reserved for a Maronite in Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system.
The army, whose make-up reflects Lebanon's sectarian mix, has played a crucial role in maintaining civil peace during more than three years of political turbulence since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri.
Kahawaji's candidacy was agreed upon by US-backed politicians and an alliance of rival groups led by Hezbollah, an Iranian-and Syrian-backed military and political group which is more powerful than the army.
Strengthening the army has been part of US policy towards Lebanon. Washington, which views Hezbollah as a terrorist group, says it has committed over $410 million in security assistance to the army since 2006, including training and supplying vehicles and ammunition.-Reuters