Parliament approves Iraq's new government

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, a Kurd, was made the acting minister of state for national security.

india Updated: May 20, 2006 18:22 IST

Parliament approved Iraq's new national unity government on Saturday, achieving a goal the United States hopes will reduce widespread violence so that American forces can eventually go home.

But as the legislators met, at least 27 people were killed and dozens 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 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.

Al-Maliki and his new Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish ministers then took their oaths of office during 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 US-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 three security portfolios: The Defence Ministry, which oversees the Iraqi army; the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for police; and the minister of state for national security.

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 defence minister.

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, a Kurd, was made the acting minister of state for national security.

Al-Maliki hopes to fill all three of these portfolios with politicians who are independent and have no affiliation with any of Iraq's militias.

A walkout on Saturday by some legislators showed how tough such efforts can be in Iraq.

Before the Cabinet was approved and inaugurated by parliament, the legislators 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 criticised the lack of a decision on the key defence, 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.

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 United States hopes the new national unity government of Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds can calm the violence and pave the way for Washington to begin withdrawing US troops.

"This is a historic day for Iraq and all its people," deputy parliament speaker Khalid al-Attiyah said at a news conference in the Green Zone before the legislators met.

"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.

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

First Published: May 20, 2006 17:55 IST