News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIraq forms government but security posts unfilled

Iraq forms government but security posts unfilled

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AFP: Iraq on Saturday formed its first permanent post-invasion government, a national unity coalition aimed at uniting a country torn by sectarian bloodshed but still lacking ministers in key security posts. by Paul Schemm

BAGHDAD, May 20, 2006 (AFP) – Iraq on Saturday formed its first permanent post-invasion government, a national unity coalition aimed at uniting a country torn by sectarian bloodshed but still lacking ministers in key security posts.

The cabinet of 37 ministers was approved at a session of parliament after being presented by new Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

But underlining the pervasive threat of violence, 19 people were killed and 58 wounded in a bomb blast in Baghdad on Saturday morning, just hours ahead of the announcement.

The blast hit the Shiite-dominated district of Sadr City, killing and wounding workers at a food stall where they had gathered for breakfast, the interior ministry said.

Maliki announced the government’s formation more than five months after the general election, a wait that had raised concerns a power vacuum was allowing insurgents to seize the initiative.

However his new government lacked permanent appointments for the ultra-sensitive posts of interior and defence minister after fierce lobbying from Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions forced further negotiations.

In the meantime, Maliki will run the interior ministry while Sunni deputy prime minister designate Salam al-Zaubai will run the defense ministry for the next week.

The security portfolios are critical because of Iraq’s raging insurgency and sectarian violence and President Jalal Talabani has said he would not support the formation of a government without security posts.

Among other key posts, parliament approved former deputy parliament speaker, the Shiite independent Hussein Shahristani, to be oil minister.

Although Maliki is a conservative Shiite and the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) swept the December elections, his government contains ministers from across the ethnic and confessional spectrum in a bid to bring unity to the country.

The minority Sunnis — dominant under ousted dictator Saddam Hussein and believed to form the backbone of the insurgency — are represented in the government.

Iraq’s Kurdish minority are also strongly represented, most notably with Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who stays in his post.
Iraq has also been dogged by a series of tit-for-tat interconfessional reprisal killings that have persisted since the bombing of an important Shiite shrine in February, leaving hundreds dead and prompting warnings of civil war.

This has compounded the problem of the deadly Sunni-led insurgency which has turned bloody attacks and kidnappings of Iraqis and foreigners into a daily routine.

In other bloodshed Saturday, at least five people were killed by a car bomb explosion at an Iraqi police station near the Syrian border, a defense ministry source said.

An Iraqi army captain and his wife were shot dead in their car by unknown gunmen in Baquba, 60 kilometres (37 miles) northeast of Baghdad. Police said the couple’s three children were wounded.

The authorities found 15 bodies in the ethnically mixed city of Musayeb, south of Baghdad, a source in the defence ministry said.
A top US administration official said on Friday the United States considers the planned unveiling of the government “a real new opportunity” and hopes it will undertake the “tough decisions” that have been delayed for too long.

“It is a pretty dramatic thing that is going to happen… a major milestone in the political process,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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