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Parliament Gathers to OK Iraq's New Gov't - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP -Three bombings killed 27 people and wounded dozens on Saturday as parliament convened to inaugurate Iraq’s first fully constitutional government since the ouster of Saddam Hussein three years ago.

Police also found the bodies of 19 Iraqis who apparently had been kidnapped and tortured by death squads that plague the capital and other cities.

After more than two hours of delay because of last-minute haggling, Iraq’s parliament convened in special session to vote on the incoming Shiite prime minister’s nominees for a Cabinet that will govern the country.

The 37-member Cabinet took months of negotiations to form after the Dec. 15 elections and, if approved by the 275-seat unicameral body, is expected to be made up of members from all of Iraq’s religious, sectarian and ethnic groups. It will be Iraq’s first constitutional government since the fall of Saddam. In a break with protocol, parliament met on a weekend to vote on the Cabinet nominees.

“This is a historic day for Iraq and all its people,” deputy parliament speaker Khalid al-Attiyah said at a nationally televised news conference. “This government represents all Iraqis.”

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

Baghdad’s airspace was closed to commercial flights on Saturday and there were cancellations at the city’s international airport, but the government and U.S. officials declined to say why.

One of the new government’s main challenges became apparent Friday when Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki failed to agree with political leaders on who will run the key defense and interior ministries. He said he would present his Cabinet to parliament with temporary heads in those posts.

His decision to push ahead with forming a government was yet another sign of his determination to waste no time addressing Iraq’s security — his administration’s top priority.

At 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, several hours before legislators began to arrive at the Green Zone, suspected insurgents set off a bomb hidden in a paper bag in a Shiite district of Baghdad, killing 19 people and wounding 58, police said. The blast occurred near a food stand in Sadr City where men gather to wait for jobs as day laborers, police Maj. Hashim al-Yaser said.

“It was a huge explosion,” said Mohammed Hamid, who works in a bakery in the area. “We carried many of the injured to ambulances and helped remove the bodies.”

Police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said 19 people were killed and 58 wounded. Many of the injured were rushed to nearby Imam Ali Hospital, where hallways were filled with doctors and nurses treating and bandaging the wounded.

Sadr City is the stronghold of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who operates a powerful militia, one of many that exist in the capital outside the control of the government. Al-Maliki hopes to disband such militias and integrate them into the country’s military and police forces as a way of reducing violence.

In the western border town of Qaim, a suicide car bomber killed at least five people and wounded 10 in an attack on a police station, the head of the local hospital said. Hamdi al-Alousi, the head of the Qaim hospital, did not have any details about the attack.

A suicide bomber reportedly trying to target an American military convoy in the northern city of Mosul and instead killed three Iraqi civilians. Police Brig. Abdul-Hamid al-Jabouri said the attack took place in Mosul’s eastern neighborhood of Sukar.

Elsewhere, police found the bodies of 19 people who apparently had been kidnapped and tortured, four in Baghdad and 15 in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of the capital. It was unclear when the victims in Musayyib had been killed and brought to a morgue, which prepared to bury them on Saturday, police said.

However, all 19 bodies appeared to be victims of death squads that kidnap and kill hundreds of people in Iraq, to settle personal vendettas, because of sectarian hatred, or in an effort to win ransoms.

Meanwhile, Iraqis waited to see who would be in their new government and how effective it would be at reducing violence and solving other problems such as frequent power outages in homes and businesses.

The Cabinet list, its members or its number, was not made public ahead prior to the parliamentary session. It remained unclear what would happen if a nominee is rejected, though it was unlikely al-Maliki would risk presenting a deal lawmakers would not approve.

Al-Maliki did not say when the interior and defense ministers would be chosen but did say the posts would go to people “well known as independents, honest, not loyal to any militia or the equivalent.”

Minority Sunni Arabs want the Defense Ministry, which runs the army; the majority Shiites want the Interior Ministry, which controls the police.

For now, al-Maliki will serve as interior minister and Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie, a Sunni Arab, will head the Defense Ministry, deputy parliament speaker Khalid al-Attiyah told The Associated Press.

Al-Zubaie is the Sunni nominee for deputy premier, and his political group is part of the main Sunni Arab coalition, the Iraqi Accordance Front.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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