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Iraq: Parliament Approves Key Cabinet Posts, But Gaps Remain

Prime Minister Al-Ja'fari after announcing his planned cabinet in late April Iraq's parliament has approved nominees for the key oil- and defense-ministers' posts -- but moments after the vote a Sunni Arab withdrew from consideration for the post of human-rights minister, saying his selection was based only on sectarian considerations. Meanwhile, violence in the country continued today as at least four people were killed in a Baghdad car bombing.

Prague, 9 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Three months after Iraqi's general elections, the Iraqi cabinet remains incomplete despite yesterday's approval of six new ministers.

Sa'dun al-Dulaymi, a Sunni researcher, was named Iraq's new defense minister after more than a week of wrangling. Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, a Shi'a petroleum engineer who held the same post in 2003 and 2004 in the U.S.-appointed Governing Council, was approved as oil minister. Bahr al-Ulum has vowed to boost oil production and oil exports back to their prewar levels in order to regain Iraq's position in the OPEC cartel and also to put an end to fuel shortages inside the country.

New Defense Minister al-Dulaymi has tribal ties to the western province of Anbar, which is considered a center of insurgency. He was an officer in Saddam Hussein's army. He later headed a security-related research institute before defecting to the West in the 1990s.

The "Financial Times" wrote today that members of the country's Sunni minority had argued that a defense minister known and trusted by guerrilla leaders -- perhaps because of a military or Ba'athist background -- might be able to persuade militants to negotiate.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Ja'fari also named Muhsin Shalash, a Shi'a, as electricity minister; Usamah al-Najafi, a Sunni, as industry minister; and Abd Mutlaq al-Juburi, another Sunni, as deputy prime minister.

Sunni Exits Field

Meanwhile, the post of human-rights minister remains vacant as the Sunni Arab who was selected, Hashim al-Shibli, turned down the post, saying it was given to him merely on the basis of sectarian considerations.

The rejection is a setback for Prime Minister al-Ja'fari, who has been struggling to form a new government. Al-Ja'fari has indicated that he is considering a woman as a nominee for the post of fourth deputy prime minister, which is also vacant. No final decision has been announced.

The new government includes 17 Shi'ite ministers, eight Kurds, six Sunnis, and a Christian. Three deputy premiers also have been named -- one each for the Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds.

Attacks Target Official, Police

Yesterday, a senior official from Iraq's Transportation Ministry was assassinated while heading to work.

Today in Baghdad four Iraqis, including two policemen, were killed and eight wounded when a suicide bomber detonated a car loaded with explosives at an intersection.

Since the swearing in of the new Iraqi government on 28 April, there has been an upsurge of militant attacks in the country -- leading to more than 200 deaths.

Prime Minister al-Ja'fari pledged yesterday to take all necessary measures to restore security in the country. He said that, if necessary, the government might impose martial law.

Today, the U.S. Army said U.S. forces had killed 75 insurgents -- including foreign fighters -- over a 24-hour period in a desert area close to the Syrian border.

(with additional wire reporting)