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The New York Times > International > Middle East > Iraqi Cabinet Is Sworn In, but 6 Positions Still Remain Unfilled

The New York Times > International > Middle East > Iraqi Cabinet Is Sworn In, but 6 Positions Still Remain Unfilled: May 4, 2005
Iraqi Cabinet Is Sworn In, but 6 Positions Still Remain Unfilled

BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 3 - In a striking display of the divisions that have plagued Iraq's fledgling government, the new cabinet was sworn into office on Tuesday with at least six positions still undecided after days of polarizing negotiations.

In a protest over the stalled talks, Sheik Ghazi al-Yawar, one of two vice presidents, refused to attend the ceremony. He has been leading efforts to name candidates for the Defense Ministry and two other vacant positions allotted to Sunni Arabs and had threatened to boycott the ceremony if Shiite leaders continued to block Sunni nominees to the Defense Ministry, a key post.

On Tuesday Sheik Yawar, the government's top-ranking Sunni and a member of its three-member presidency council, carried out his threat, and his seat remained conspicuously empty as the other cabinet ministers swore the oath of office with their hands on a Koran.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, at a news conference after the ceremony, played down Sheik Yawar's absence, and said the remaining positions would be filled within two or three days. He said names had been agreed on for the Oil and Electricity Ministries and for a deputy prime minister and would be made public on Wednesday.

The persistent failure to fill the cabinet - and the public protest by one of the government's only Sunni Arabs - was a serious embarrassment for the effort to build a government of national unity. Dr. Jaafari made similar assurances of a speedy finale after the partial cabinet was approved on Thursday.

Instead, Iraq's first fully and freely elected government remains hobbled by sectarian divisions more than three months after January elections. In recent days, tensions appear to have worsened between the Shiite alliance that dominates the new government and the minority Sunni Arabs. Violence, too, has risen along with the discontent.

Asked about Sheik Yawar's absence, an aide to Dr. Jaafari said the Sunni vice president appeared to be "putting pressure" on the Shiite leadership to fill the remaining posts.

In his comments after the ceremony, Dr. Jaafari conceded that the failure to reach a final agreement on the cabinet was a setback. But he appeared to blame the Sunnis, who led the government under Saddam Hussein, for the deadlock.

"There are disputes among the Sunnis themselves," he said when asked about the failure to agree on cabinet posts. "We are eager to have the best choices, people who would be respected by Sunnis and by all Iraqis."

Dr. Jaafari said the leadership might name only three deputy prime ministers instead of the four initially planned, making a full cabinet of 35.

Ahmad Najati, a spokesman for Sheik Yawar, denied Tuesday night that Sunni political leaders had been unable to agree on their candidates. For weeks, Sheik Yawar has led an effort to propose nominees for defense minister, and Shiite leaders have rejected them all, saying they are too closely associated with Mr. Hussein's Baath Party, Mr. Najati said. As a consequence, Sheik Yawar boycotted the ceremony, he said.

Negotiations are continuing, Mr. Najati added, and "we will reach an agreement Wednesday, God willing."

Other Sunni leaders were less optimistic, saying some of their colleagues had considered withdrawing from talks altogether after having their proposals repeatedly rejected.

"We are losing a lot, and our people may not be happy with what we are doing," said Saleh Mutlak, another Sunni leader in the negotiations.

The gaps in the government illustrated once again the stark divisions among Iraqis over how to deal with their Baathist past. Sunni Arabs dominated the upper echelons of the military during Mr. Hussein's rule, and it is not surprising that Sunni nominees to run Iraq's Army should be linked to the Baath Party. Yet in recent weeks, as Sheik Yawar and other Sunni leaders have proposed names for the job, they have been shot down by Shiite leaders.

Aides to Dr. Jaafari have said that only those who held high positions in the Baath Party or who committed crimes will be barred from roles in government. But some Shiite leaders have spoken of more far-reaching purges of the security services, where a number of former Baathist officers now hold positions of power.

To some Sunni leaders, the so-called de-Baathification effort is little more than a campaign against Sunni Arabs. Sunnis also dominate the insurgency, and American officials - and some Iraqis - have hoped that a credible Sunni presence in the government would help to lure Sunnis out of the armed resistance.

For the moment, the effort to bring Sunnis into government appears to have stalled, and some Iraqi officials say that could provoke further insurgent attacks.

The announcement of a Shiite-dominated cabinet on Thursday was followed by four straight days of heightened violence that left at least 120 people dead and hundreds wounded.

The violence continued Tuesday. At least 12 insurgents were killed west of the capital in Ramadi when they attacked an American checkpoint, news services reported.

One American soldier was killed and another wounded on a patrol south of the Baghdad airport at about 9:45 p.m. Monday when their vehicle was struck by a homemade bomb, military officials said Tuesday. Two Bulgarian soldiers died when their Humvee overturned about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday near the southern city of Basra, officials said.

Early Tuesday morning, the United States military said it had found the body of one of two pilots from a pair of missing F/A-18 jets from the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson that are believed to have crashed about 10:10 p.m. Monday in south-central Iraq. There has been no sign that hostile fire brought the jets down, the military said.

A senior military official in Washington said that the planes had probably had a midair collision and that the body of the pilot had been found in his ejection seat, The Associated Press reported.

In Al Qaim, near the Syrian border, American troops killed at least nine insurgents on Monday after they stopped a truck carrying heavily armed men and were fired upon, the military said.

Tuesday also brought what appeared to be good news in the Iraqi government's battle against insurgents. A letter believed to have been written to the most-wanted terrorist in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, by one of his followers and captured during a raid on Thursday cites "low morale" among Mr. Zarqawi's followers, the incompetence of insurgent leaders and "weakening support for the jihad," military officials said.

The letter, seized during a raid in Baghdad that left five terrorists dead, also accuses "the sheik," as Mr. Zarqawi is said to be known to his followers, of abandoning them after the Marines invaded Falluja in November. Written by Abu Asim al-Qusaymi al-Yemeni, the letter was dated April 27, the day before it was found, the military said. Another document found during the raid listed "targeting information and sketch maps for kidnappings and bombings," the military said.

Three other insurgents were also captured during the raid and are now providing information about a large cell of Zarqawi followers, the military said. One of the men killed was Abu Rayyan, whom the military described as a Saudi leader of an insurgent cell based in Baghdad that specialized in car bomb attacks.

Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedy and Sabrina Tavernise contributed reporting for this article.

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