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Iraq House approves cabinet

Baghdad, April 28 (Reuters): Iraq formed its first democratically elected government in more than 50 years today, ending three months of political stalemate that has crippled efforts to tackle violence.

The 275-seat parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of the cabinet proposed by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, ending a power vacuum that has existed since the January 30 elections. Applause broke out in the Assembly after the speaker declared the vote had passed by 180 votes to five.

The government's formation coincided with the 68th birthday of former dictator Saddam Hussein, who is awaiting trial in a US-run jail on Baghdad's outskirts. 'The journey was full of blood, words, sweat and tears until this day, when our people gave you their trust to carry out this responsibility,' Jaafari told parliament.

Delays in forming the cabinet, caused by disagreement over the allocation of ministries, had undermined many Iraqis' faith in their leaders.

The drawn-out talks also erased much of the optimism created by the elections and spurred the insurgency. The cabinet will consist of 31 ministers, four deputy Prime Ministers and Jaafari, an effort to accommodate almost all of Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups.

Most of the posts went to Shias, the majority in the country and the new political power after decades of Sunni- led rule under Saddam. Kurds and Sunni Arabs were also strongly represented. Seven ministries went to women.

However, Jaafari failed to name permanent ministers to five ministries ' oil, defence, electricity, industry and human rights ' and two deputy Prime Minister posts were left vacant.

Senior Sunni officials were not content. Deputy President Ghazi al-Yawar said it was a sectarian allotment. 'We're not happy, but we have to wait until all the nominations are permanent before we do anything,' he said.

Most Sunnis did not vote in the elections, either respecting a call for a boycott by some of their leaders or out of fear of violence by insurgents, and they have little representation in parliament.

The acting oil minister, a position crucial to Iraq's economic revival, will be Ahmad Chalabi, a Shi'ite once close to the Pentagon, and the acting defence minister will be Jaafari.

The appointment of Chalabi, one of the most unpopular politicians in Iraq according to surveys, is likely to dismay many Iraqis. But he promised no abrupt changes.

'My focus will be stability,' Chalabi told Reuters.

Chalabi was convicted of bank fraud in Jordan in the 1990s following the collapse of a bank he headed. He denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated.

The interior ministry went to Bayan Jabbor, a Shi'ite.

Some U.S. and Iraqi officials have warned against any purge of Sunnis, currently central to the fight against insurgents, from the interior ministry.

Jaafari, an Islamist Shi'ite, said he hoped to put permanent ministers in place in all ministries within a few days and was at pains to insist the spread reflected a government of 'national unity'.

But Yawar warned that Sunnis would not accept any candidate being imposed on them in the final allocation of portfolios.

'The Sunnis will not accept any name being imposed on them, even if it is the name of a Sunni,' he said, referring to the defence ministry, which was expected to go to a Sunni.

No members of Iyad Allawi's party were included after talks with the former prime minister broke down this week after he was said to have demanded too many cabinet posts.

Allawi's party came third in the elections, winning 40 seats in parliament, and will now go into opposition.


The formation of a government represents a landmark after months of political impasse but the hardest work remains to be done, with violence on the increase throughout the country.

Suicide car bombings, assassinations and other attacks have surged in recent weeks, with the inability to form a government emboldening insurgents, U.S. and Iraqi officials have said.

On Wednesday, a woman parliamentarian and member of Allawi's political party was shot dead at her home in eastern Baghdad, the first lawmaker to be assassinated.

Ahead of the National Assembly's vote on Thursday a string of attacks killed at least eight people, including two interior ministry officials, and wounded more than 30.

The fate of three Romanian journalists and their driver remained unknown. Kidnapped a month ago, they are threatened with death unless Romania withdraws its 800 troops from Iraq. The deadline hanging over them has been extended once.

As well as having to tackle guerrilla violence and rampant organised crime, the new government, working with parliament, will oversee the writing of a permanent constitution. Iraq will hold fresh elections under the charter in December.

No progress has been made on the constitution, despite parliament's meeting on and off for more than a month. The document has to be drawn up by mid-August and then put to a referendum before elections are held.

If it does not look as if it is going to be drafted on time, legislators can ask for a six-month extension before Aug. 1.

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