- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 20, 2006

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s parliament approved a national unity government today, achieving a goal Washington hopes will reduce violence so U.S. forces can eventually go home.

But as the legislators met, a series of attacks killed at least 27 persons and wounded dozens.

Police also found the bodies of 21 Iraqis who apparently had been kidnapped and tortured by death squads that plague the capital and other areas.

The wounded included two British soldiers whose convoy was hit by a roadside bomb in the southern city of Basra, police said.

In a show of hands, the 275-member parliament approved each of the 39 Cabinet ministers proposed by incoming Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The new Shi’ite Muslim, Sunni Arab and Kurdish ministers then took their oaths of office during the nationally televised session in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.

The installation, coming after months of political wrangling following Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, completed a democratic process that began after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

In his first address, Mr. al-Maliki told parliament he would make restoring stability and security the top priority of his new administration. He said he would “work fast” to improve and coordinate Iraqi security forces so they can reduce attacks by insurgent groups and militias.

Mr. al-Maliki also said he would set “an objective timetable to transfer the full security mission to Iraqi forces, ending the mission of the multinational forces.”

But the challenges facing the new government were obvious when Mr. al-Maliki was unable to make a final decision about the top three security posts: defense minister, who oversees the Iraqi army; interior minister, who is responsible for police; and minister for national security.

Mr. al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, said he would be acting interior minister for now, and he made Salam Zikam al-Zubaie, a Sunni Arab, the temporary defense minister. Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, a Kurd, was made acting minister for national security.

Mr. al-Maliki hopes to fill all three posts with politicians who are independent and have no affiliation with any of Iraq’s militias.

It was apparent how tough that will be. Before the Cabinet was approved and inaugurated by parliament, legislators turned down a motion by Sunni Arab leader Saleh al-Mutlaq to postpone the session. Mr. al-Mutlaq then walked out with about 10 other Sunni deputies.

Many of Iraq’s insurgent groups are Sunni-led, and a key goal of the government is to win the support of Sunnis and to recruit as many of them as possible into Iraq’s security forces.

The Bush administration hopes the new national unity government of Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds can calm violence and pave the way for beginning the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

In a speech after the inauguration, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, predicted that the new government will help his oil-rich country resolve its many problems.

“It will achieve security, stability, peace and prosperity. Working with our people and our allies, this national unity government will purge Iraq of its evil forces, allowing it to once again become independent and prosperous,” Mr. Talabani said.

The Cabinet includes two women: Human Rights Minister Wijdan Mikaeil, the only Christian chosen, and Women’s Affairs Minister Fatin Abdel-Rahman.

The top ministers include Hussain al-Shahristani, a Shi’ite who will oversee oil; Bayan Jabr, a Shi’ite in charge of the Finance Ministry; Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd who is foreign minister; and Abed Falah al-Sudani, a Shi’ite heading the trade ministry.

The legislative session began about 1:30 p.m., 2 hours later than planned as Mr. al-Maliki held last-minute meetings with other politicians, apparently to hammer out final agreements on some of the Cabinet posts.

U.S. and Iraqi forces didn’t impose daytime curfews or ban traffic in Baghdad and major cities, as they did during earlier national elections and a constitutional referendum. But security was heavy in the Green Zone and the capital’s airspace was closed to commercial flights at Baghdad’s international airport. The government and U.S. officials declined to say why.

Meanwhile, violence continued across the country.

Suspected insurgents set off a bomb hidden in a paper bag in a Shi’ite district of Baghdad, killing 19 persons and wounding 58, police said. The blast occurred near a food stand in Sadr City where men gather to wait for jobs as day laborers, policeman Maj. Hashim al-Yaser said.

“It was a huge explosion,” said Mohammed Hamid, who works in a bakery in the area. “We carried many of the injured to ambulances and helped remove the bodies.”

Sadr City is the stronghold of radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who operates a powerful militia, one of many that exist in the capital outside the control of the government. Mr. al-Maliki hopes to disband such militias and integrate them into the country’s military and police.

In the western border town of Qaim, a suicide car bomber killed at least five persons and wounded 10 in an attack on a police station, said the head of the local hospital, Hamdi al-Alousi. He did not have any details about the attack.

In the northern city of Mosul, a suicide bomber apparently trying to target a U.S. military convoy instead killed three Iraqi civilians, police Brig. Abdul-Hamid al-Jibouri said.

Police found the bodies of 21 persons who apparently had been kidnapped and tortured, six in Baghdad and 15 in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of the capital. All appeared to be victims of death squads that have killed hundreds in sectarian violence, personal vendettas and kidnappings for ransom.

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