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Iraq's new national unity government to be inaugurated on Saturday - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – As Iraqis awaited the inauguration of their new national unity government, roadside bombs and other attacks killed five Iraqis and wounded 18 people on Friday, including a U.S. soldier riding through Baghdad in a minesweeper.

On Saturday, legislators plan to swear in a new prime minister and Cabinet, completing a democratic transition that began in December with the election of its parliament.

A main goal of the new government will be to restore security in Iraq, where sectarian violence and attacks by insurgents and militias have killed many people and led thousands of Iraqi families to flee their homes.

The Bush administration hopes that full-scale democracy can unite Iraq’s complex mix of Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds, reduce public support for insurgent groups and militias, and make it possible to begin withdrawing U.S. troops sometime this year.

In a speech in Baghdad on Thursday night, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad praised Iraq’s outgoing prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and said the inauguration will be a “historic step in Iraq’s transition from dictatorship to democracy.”

Since the Iraq war began in March 2003, roadside bombs have been the deadliest form of attack by insurgents, killing thousands of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi police, often by hitting their convoys and patrols in cities such as Baghdad.

On Friday, the day of worship in mostly Muslim Iraq, one such hidden bomb hit a U.S. convoy in Dora, a mixed Sunni-Shiite-Christian area and one of the city’s most violent districts.

The blast heavily damaged the armored vehicle used by explosive ordnance disposal teams to search for mines, which often are buried in the dirt beside roads or in piles of garbage. One U.S. soldier was wounded and evacuated from the site in south Baghdad, the U.S. command said.

Two other roadside bombs targeted Iraqi forces in the capital. One exploded outside the home of a police officer in east Baghdad at 6 a.m. in an apparent assassination attempt, said police Lt. Ali Abbas. The officer was on patrol, but the explosion severely wounded his wife and two children, Abbas said.

A man who identified himself only as a relative of the officer said: “We were sleeping in the house. We heard a big bang. My brother’s family was severely burned and hospitalized.”

Insurgents often conduct such attacks in an effort to discourage Iraqis from joining police forces or the Iraq army.

Another roadside bomb exploded at 8:00 a.m. near an Iraqi army patrol in western Baghdad, wounding three soldiers, said police Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razzaq.

Police also found the bullet-ridden bodies of four Iraqis who had been kidnapped and tortured by some of the many death squads that are active in the capital. One of the victims was an elementary school teacher. Two of the four bodies were found in Dora. Another beheaded, handcuffed body was found in Numaniya, 130 kilometers (80 miles)southwest of Baghdad, said Hadi al-Itabi, an official at a morgue in nearby Kut.

In other violence: Gunmen riding in a minibus opened fire on another one in the Abu Ghraib area just outside Baghdad, wounding 11 passengers, said police 1st Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi.

Arsonists burned more than 30 shops in a market in Diwaniyah, a Shiite area 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Baghdad, said police Maj. Nabil al-Ghazal. No one hurt and the motive for the attack was not immediately known, said al-Ghazal.

On Thursday, four U.S. soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter were killed by a roadside bomb and at least two dozen Iraqis died in violence across the country.

The kidnappers of a United Arab Emirates diplomat in Iraq also demanded the closing of the country’s embassy in Baghdad in a videotape aired on Arab television. Al-Jazeera TV did not air audio with the video, which showed a man said to be the hostage, Naji Rashid al-Nuaimi, 28, who was abducted by gunmen Tuesday in Baghdad.

Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, plans on Saturday to present his new Cabinet to parliament. The legislators then plan to swear in al-Maliki and the ministers. That will complete a process that began in December with the election of Iraq’s parliament.

Al-Maliki’s two most important decisions regarding the new Cabinet regard his selection of defense and interior ministers. Sunni Arabs want the Defense Ministry, which runs the army, while the Shiites want the Interior Ministry, which controls the police.

It has been suggested that al-Maliki might appoint himself to head the two ministries until all parties can agree, but that could immediately lead to discord in the new government.