- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari pledged to unite Iraq’s rival ethnic and religious factions and fight terrorism as the nation’s first democratically elected government was sworn in yesterday.

“You all know the heavy legacy inherited by this government. We are afflicted by corruption, lack of services, unemployment and mass graves,” Mr. al-Jaafari told lawmakers after taking the oath of office before the National Assembly.

“I would like to tell the widows and orphans … your sacrifices have not gone in vain.”

One by one, Mr. al-Jaafari and members of his Cabinet walked to a podium and pledged to defend Iraq and its people in the face of violence that has killed nearly 170 people in six days.

But five ministries — including the key defense and oil portfolios — remained in temporary hands and two deputy prime minister’s slots were unfilled as Mr. al-Jaafari struggled to bring the disaffected Sunni minority into key posts while balancing the demands of other groups.

Mr. al-Jaafari particularly wanted the defense minister’s job filled by a Sunni Arab as a way to draw the formerly dominant minority into the fight against an insurgency that is thought to be based primarily among Sunnis.

He will act as defense minister until consensus can be reached on a new one. Ahmed Chalabi, the Shi’ite deputy prime minister, was given temporary responsibility for the oil ministry.

Violence persisted yesterday, including a gunbattle in Ramadi that killed 12 militants and three other persons.

Meanwhile, investigators concluded that two missing Marine fighter jets had likely collided over southern Iraq on Monday night. The body of one pilot was found and U.S. officials in Baghdad said the search for the planes was continuing.

Mr. al-Jaafari had promised to form a government that would win over the Sunnis, but members of his Shi’ite-dominated alliance rejected candidates with ties to Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime.

After months of wrangling following Jan. 30 elections, Mr. al-Jaafari negotiated a Cabinet that includes 14 Shi’ite ministers, eight Kurds, four Sunnis and one Christian. Two of the four deputy prime ministers were also sworn in yesterday, a Shi’ite and a Kurd.

President Jalal Talabani wished the new Cabinet well in its historic task: “To achieve a unified democratic Iraq.”

Underscoring lingering divisions, however, many lawmakers stayed away from the ceremony, which took place in a half-empty hall inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified green zone.

They included Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, a Sunni leader and one of two vice presidents, and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi’ite, whose interim government was being replaced. His office said he was out of the country, but declined to specify where.

The new government will hold it’s first meeting within days, Mr. al-Jaafari said.

Near the Syrian border on Monday, coalition forces tracked down and confronted suspected members of al Qaeda in Iraq, the U.S. military said. The fighting, which included a U.S. air strike, killed 12 militants and injured a 6-year-old girl, the military said. Six coalition soldiers also were wounded, it said, without specifying their nationalities.

At least 35 other Iraqis were killed Monday, including eight soldiers slain by a suicide attacker who blew up a truck at a checkpoint south of the capital and six civilians caught in a car bombing that set fire to a Baghdad apartment building. An American and a British soldier were killed in separate roadside bombings.

Yesterday, insurgents attacked a checkpoint in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, and 12 militants, an Iraqi soldier and two Iraqi civilians died in the fighting, the U.S. military said. Two Marines were slightly injured in fighting that wounded four insurgents and two Iraqi soldiers.

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