- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced Iraq’s first full-term government yesterday, with a vow to bring stability to a nation racked with terrorism and sectarian attacks and the promise of a timetable for U.S.-led troops to return home.

But Mr. al-Maliki’s long-awaited Cabinet lineup was still short of ministers for the Interior and Defense ministries — the key posts charged with ending violence that continued to take a deadly toll.

Mr. al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, will temporarily hold the Interior portfolio, and Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie, a Sunni, was named temporary minister of defense.

A third post, minister for national-security affairs, also was to be filled on a temporary basis by Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, a Kurd.

Addressing the 255-member assembly that was elected in December and spent the next five months negotiating yesterday’s Cabinet lineup, Mr. al-Maliki outlined plans to propel the country forward.

“Just as we did away with the tyrant and the days of oppression and despotism, we will do away with terrorism and sabotage,” and end the Sunni-Shi’ite feud that has led to “unlimited numbers of victims,” Mr. al-Maliki said.

President Bush congratulated the government that is to rule for the next four years.

“Iraqis now have a fully constitutional government, marking the end of a democratic transitional process in Iraq that has been both difficult and inspiring.

“This broadly representative government offers a new opportunity for progress in Iraq,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. al-Maliki calmly rode out a series of outbursts in the legislature, including a walkout by a group of Sunni lawmakers who sought to delay yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony.

He did not mention the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, but said he would work to speed up the transfer of responsibility to the Iraqi army, police and security forces “in accordance with an objective timetable” to allow the return of multinational forces to their homes.

“Today marks a new milestone for Iraq,” U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters after the ceremony, which took place in the heavily protected Green Zone area of Baghdad.

“What happened in the assembly represents the end of Iraq’s political transition,” he said.

But violence continued unabated in the streets outside the concrete bunkers manned by U.S. and coalition forces, leaving 48 dead in a combination of bombings and executions.

The prime minister said the new government would be stronger with “political and religious support,” that the issue of armed militias should be solved and that the sea of weapons throughout Iraq would be brought “under government control.”

Previous governments have been unable or unwilling to break up the militias, two of which belong to the top Shi’ite parties and have been accused of killing minority Sunnis.

Sunnis form the backbone of the country’s insurgency and are behind most attacks against Iraq’s fledgling security services.

Several Sunni lawmakers interrupted the assembly proceedings to call for a two-day postponement of the swearing-in. They were voted down by a show of hands.

In frustration, Sunni leader Saleh al-Mutleq and 10 of his supporters staged a walkout just before the ceremony, to protest what he said was a sectarian government.

Mr. Khalilzad told reporters that the new government had given itself seven days to come to a decision on the three Cabinet posts.

“It is important that they get them right,” he said.

Former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who was forced out of his position last month, ended the swearing-in ceremony with a call for lawmakers to look beyond their ethnic and religious backgrounds and work together to bring peace and progress to the country.

Iraq’s top political leaders made a point of greeting Mr. al-Jaafari before the assembly began, shaking his hand and even asking for his autograph.


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