Iraqi Cabinet Approved

Relatives gather to wait for news under a picture of Imam Ali, outside the Imam Ali hospital, after suspected insurgents set off a bomb near a food stand where men gathered to wait for jobs as day laborers in the Sadr City area of Baghdad, Iraq Saturday, May 20, 2006. AP

Parliament approved Iraq's new national unity government on Saturday, achieving a goal the U.S. hopes will reduce widespread violence so that U.S. forces can eventually go home. But as the legislators met, at least 27 people were killed and 68 wounded in a series of attacks.

Police also found the bodies of 21 Iraqis who apparently had been kidnapped and tortured by death squads that plague the capital and another area. 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 Cabinet minister proposed by incoming Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The new ministers then took their oaths of office in the nationally televised session in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

That completed a democratic process that began following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

In his first address, al-Maliki told parliament that 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 forces so they can reduce attacks by insurgent groups and militias.

Al-Maliki 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 challenge the new government will face was obvious when al-Maliki was unable to make a final decision about the top two security porfolios: the Defense Ministry, which oversees the Iraqi army, and the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for police.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, said he would be acting interior minister for now, and he made Salam Zikam al-Zubaie, a Sunni Arab, the temporary defense minister.

Also, some legislators were angry by this decision.

Before the Cabinet was approved by a show of hands, parliament turned down a motion by Sunni Arab leader Saleh al-Mutlaq to postpone the session.

Al-Mutlaq then walked out with about 10 other Sunni deputies. He had criticized the lack of a decision on key defense, interior posts and complained that he was asked to give up his political position and rhetoric in return for three ministries: environment, women and national dialogue.

The United States hopes the new national unity government of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds can calm the violence and pave the way for Washington to begin withdrawing U.S. troops.

"This is a historic day for Iraq and all its people," deputy parliament speaker Khalid al-Attiyah said at a nationally televised news conference as the legislators gathered.

"It is the first time that a full-term, democratically elected government has been formed in Iraq since the fall of the ousted regime. This government represents all Iraqis," said al-Attiyah, a bearded Shiite cleric wearing a white turban.

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

U.S. and Iraqi forces didn't impose day time curfews or ban traffic in Baghdad and major cities, as they did during previous national elections and 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.

About 100 stranded passengers and airport workers crowded around a television set in the departure lounge to watch the parliament session.

Meanwhile, violence continued in Iraq.

At 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, several hours before legislators began to arrive at the Green Zone, suspected insurgents set off a bomb hidden in a paper bag in a Shiite district of Baghdad, killing 19 people 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, police 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."

Police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said 19 people were killed and 58 wounded. Many of the injured were rushed to nearby Imam Ali Hospital, where hallways were filled with doctors and nurses treating and bandaging the wounded.

Sadr City is the stronghold of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who operates a powerful militia, one of many that exist in the capital outside the control of the government. Al-Maliki hopes to disband such militias and integrate them into the country's military and police forces as a way of reducing violence.

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

In the northern city of Mosul, a suicide bomber reportedly trying to target a U.S. military convoy instead killed three Iraqi civilians. Police Brig. Abdul-Hamid al-Jibouri said the attack took place in Mosul's eastern neighborhood of Sukar.

Elsewhere, police found the bodies of 21 people who apparently had been kidnapped and tortured, six in Baghdad and 15 in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of the capital. It was unclear when the victims in Musayyib had been killed and brought to a morgue, which prepared to bury them on Saturday, police said.

However, all 21 bodies appeared to be victims of death squads which kidnap and kill hundreds of people in Iraq, to settle personal vendettas, because of sectarian hatred, or in an effort to win ransoms.
  • William Vitka

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