- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 2, 2003

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s Governing Council yesterday named a 25-member Cabinet reflecting the country’s ethnic and religious makeup to take charge of government ministries and begin reclaiming some powers from the U.S.-led coalition.

A huge funeral procession for a popular Shi’ite cleric, meanwhile, arrived at the holy city of Najaf, where the ayatollah died in a bomb blast Friday. Arab TV broadcast an audiotape purportedly from Saddam Hussein denying any involvement in the bombing.

The new Cabinet exactly mirrors the Governing Council’s ethnic and religious breakdown with 13 Shi’ites, five Sunni Arabs, five Kurds (also Sunnis), one ethnic Turk and an Assyrian Christian.

The foreign minister will be Hoshyar Zebari, a spokesman for the Kurdish Democratic Party. The Oil Ministry will be headed by Ibrahim Muhammad Bahr al-Uloum, the son of Governing Council member Muhammad Bahr al-Uloum, who on Saturday suspended his membership in the interim body because of the lack of security in the country and what he saw as the coalition’s inability to protect prominent figures. The elder Mr. Bahr al-Uloum cited the Najaf bombing.

The Information Ministry, which became famous for its distorted accounts of the war, has been abolished.

The council, formed July 13, had been promising for weeks to name a government. It was not clear what delayed announcing the Cabinet, but several council members had spent much time after their appointment on trips throughout the world seeking recognition for the body as the legitimate representative of the Iraqi people.

U.S. officials have voiced frustration at how long it was taking the Governing Council to get to work and take a greater role in security and gathering intelligence, steps that might block further attacks on American forces and prominent Iraqis.

The council said it had been prepared to announce the government late last week but delayed it because of the bombing in Najaf on Friday.

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, has said an election for a new government could take place as early as the end of 2004, after the adoption of a new constitution.

The Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite television station and the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. both aired yesterday’s audiotape, which carried what seemed to be the voice of Saddam.

The speech employed the deposed leader’s well-known rhetorical flourishes in urging Iraqis not to believe those who blamed him and his followers for the attack on the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf that killed Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim and 124 other persons.

“Many of you may have heard the snakes hissing, the servants of the invaders, occupiers, infidels, and how they have managed to accuse the followers of Saddam Hussein of responsibility for the attack on al-Hakim without any evidence,” the tape said. “They rushed to accuse before investigating.”

While denying a role in the Najaf bombing, the voice made no mention of the Jordanian Embassy bombing on Aug. 7 or the U.N. headquarters attack 12 days later, which investigators suspect may have also been carried out by Saddam loyalists.

It was impossible to immediately authenticate the tape. The CIA said it was reviewing the recording.

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