Iraqis agree on new government but doubts about future remain

Iraq's incoming prime minister said yesterday that he will go ahead with presenting his Cabinet for parliamentary approval despite failing to reach agreement with other political and sectarian coalitions over the critical defense and interior ministries.

A senior official in the main Sunni Arab Accordance Front, Adnan al-Dulaimi, said his coalition would support Nouri al-Maliki's Cabinet choices.

Al-Maliki's decision came as roadside bombs and other attacks killed at least 17 Iraqis and wounded 32 people.

The fate of a kidnapped Emirati diplomat was uncertain after his brother retracted an earlier statement that the hostage was free, saying the family had received no confirmation of his brother's release.

The prime minister-designate met with officials of other groups and said a decision had been made on the rest of the Cabinet "except for defense and interior ministries." He said he would present his nominees Saturday for approval to the 275-member parliament - known as the Council of Representatives.

Despite his failure to find acceptable nominees for the two posts, it was unlikely al-Maliki would take the risk of presenting a deal parliament would reject.

"We decided on the names of the ministers and we will announce them" Saturday "except for interior and defense ministries. Both will be acting (temporary) ministers until we will choose the best ministers for those posts," he said.

Sunni Arabs want the Defense Ministry, which runs the army, while the Shiites want the Interior Ministry, which controls the police.

The Cabinet list, its members or its number has not been released, and al-Maliki said he will make it public when parliament convenes in the heavily fortified Green Zone. It remains unclear what will happen if any nominee is rejected.

Deputy parliament speaker Khalid al-Attiyah told The Associated Press that al-Maliki would serve as acting interior minister for a week. He said that Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie, a Sunni Arab who is a deputy with the main Accordance Front, would temporarily head the Defense Ministry for the same period to allow time for agreement to be reached on permanent ministers.

Al-Zubaie, who is the Sunni Arab nominee for deputy premier, heads the Agriculture Engineers Union and is a member of a Sunni political group, the General Conference of the Iraqi People.

"It doesn't matter to us that they will announce the government without the defense or interior ministries, and appoint the deputy prime minister from the Accordance Front to the defense post and the prime minister to the interior ministry," al-Dulaimi said.

But he said a decision should be made quickly because "the security situation is still unstable and there are numerous acts of killing and theft."

Al-Maliki did not say when the interior and defense ministers would be chosen, but said the two posts would be given to people "who will be well known as independents, honest, not loyal to any militia or the equivalent."

It had been known that a final deal was still in the works when al-Maliki announced earlier that he would go ahead and seek parliamentary approval for his Cabinet.

Al-Maliki has been so certain it would be approved that he shortened the process to allow the immediate inauguration of his government, a sign of his determination to waste no time addressing the new administration's top priority - security.

The second-highest ranking US general in Iraq said the key to reducing violence in Iraq was to ensure that the new government can revive the economy.

"I honestly believe that as this government begins work on the policies that will be required to put people to work and make use of the vast resources of Iraq that you're going to see a decrease in violence," Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of Multi-national Corps Iraq, told reporters.

In Baghdad, there was also no confirmation of the release of Naji Rashid al-Nuaimi, 28, the first secretary at the United Arab Emirates Embassy from Iraqi authorities. In the Emirates' capital Abu Dhabi, a government official declined to comment on the report.

Al-Noaimi was seized Tuesday night in Baghdad by gunmen who shot and wounded his Sudanese driver. The kidnapping was another blow to Iraq's campaign to get Arab states to post ambassadors to Baghdad, despite an insurgency which saw the kidnapping and killing of three Arab diplomats last July.

His brother, Mohammed al-Nuaimi, had earlier said the family had been told by the government that he was free, but later retracted that statement.

In Friday's worst violence, a gunbattle between suspected insurgents and Iraqi police killed five civilians and wounded eight in Jihad, a neighborhood of western Baghdad, said police Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razzaq. He said U.S. forces helped police seal off the area after the fighting.

Another five men were killed and six injured in western Baghdad when gunmen fired on the minibus they were on. The five worked at a nearby swimming pool, Capt. Jemil Hussein of the Yarmouk police station said, and added it was unclear why they were killed.

Gunmen killed a former Baath party member, Ghazi Hussein, in Hafriyah village south of Baghdad, police said. Omer Serri, the secretary of Ramadi's governor, was shot and killed while driving in the western Anbar city.

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.

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