Under U.S. pressure to end a crippling stalemate, Iraq's prime minister-designate on Tuesday proposed a 36-member Cabinet — including three deputy premiers from Iraq's main Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions. Many here believe the monthslong impasse over the makeup of a new government has emboldened insurgents, who have launched deadly attacks on U.S. and Iraqi security forces.
Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search) submitted his proposal Tuesday to the three-member presidential council, which must sign off on the list before it is submitted to the 275-member National Assembly for a vote, said the premier's spokesman, Abdul Razak al-Kadhi.
President Jalal Talabani (search) has already indicated he would not exercise his veto and a vote could take place as soon as Wednesday, lawmakers said.
Al-Jaafari — who must form a government by May 7 or loose his post — has promised a Cabinet drawing in all of the country's main ethnic and religious groups.
Under his proposal, Iraq's majority Shiites would get 17 ministries, according to Ali al-Adib and Hadi al-Ameri, two lawmakers from al-Jaafari's Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance (search), which controls 148 seats in parliament.
Eight ministries would go to the alliance's Kurdish allies, six to Sunni Muslims and one to a Christian, the lawmakers said.
Fouad Massoum, a senior member of Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (search), confirmed most of the breakdown, but was not aware that a ministry would go to a Christian faction.
Hoping to end months of haggling, al-Jaafari has also decided to appoint three deputy prime ministers — one each from the country's main ethnic and religious groups — lawmakers said.
Conspicuously absent from the proposed Cabinet were members of outgoing Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's (search) Iraqi List party, who had asked for at least four ministries, including a senior post, and a deputy premiership. Allawi's Iraqi List controls 40 seats in the National Assembly.
Shiite lawmakers said Sunday they had given up trying to balance Allawi's demands with those of Sunni factions, who could offer a link to begin negotiations with Sunni militants, believed to be driving the insurgency.
Many Shiites have long resented the secular Allawi, accusing his outgoing administration of including in the government and security forces former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, which brutally repressed the majority Shiites and Kurds.
Iraqi politicians have been under U.S. pressure to form a transitional government nearly three months after Jan. 30 elections. Speaking to reporters in Crawford, Texas, on Monday, U.S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said: "We're going to continue to say it is important to keep momentum in the political process."
Underscoring the concern, insurgents have staged a series of well coordinated attacks that have inflicted heavy casualties in recent weeks, ending a post-election lull.
Insurgents fired five mortars Tuesday at a U.S. base in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, said U.S. Maj. Richard Goldenberg. U.S. forces did not return fire and suffered no casualties, he said. However, an errant round landed outside the base and wounded an Iraqi civilian, police Lt. Qasim Muhammed said.
The U.S. military said a soldier was killed Saturday by a roadside bomb that struck his convoy near Haswah, 22 miles west of Baghdad. As of Monday, at least 1,570 members of the U.S. military had died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies have struck back over the past week, staging a series of coordinated raids across the country that have netted at least 120 suspected militants and several important weapons hauls, the U.S. military said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, hundreds rallied across Romania, calling for the release of three Romanian journalists abducted in Iraq, while a television station said it received a message from the kidnappers urging the public and government to act on their demands.
The kidnappers had threatened to kill the journalists — Marie Jeanne Ion, Sorin Miscoci and Ovidiu Ohanesian — and their Iraqi American, translator Mohammed Monaf, if Romania did not pull its 800 troops out of Iraq by Tuesday.
More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since April 2004, and at least 17 are believed to still be in captivity. More than 30 others were killed by their kidnappers.
In other developments:
— U.S. forces believe they just missed capturing Iraq's most-wanted terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search) in a Feb. 20 raid that netted two of his associates, a senior U.S. military official said Tuesday. The official, who discussed the operation on condition of anonymity, could provide no details on how al-Zarqawi escaped. U.S. forces recovered a computer belonging to al-Zarqawi, the official said, although he did not say how it was obtained.
— Charles Duelfer (search), the CIA's top weapons hunter in Iraq, said in his final report that the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq "has been exhausted" without finding any. U.S. and British warnings about Saddam Hussein's alleged WMDs had been a main argument for the coalition's invasion of Iraq more than two years ago.
— A senior U.S. defense official said an American inquiry into the fatal shooting of an Italian intelligence officer in Baghdad is expected to conclude that U.S. soldiers generally followed standing instructions when they fired on a car he was in. But the investigation into the March 4 shooting, when the officer was guarding an Italian journalist leaving Iraq after she was freed as a hostage, is expected to raise questions about the rules of engagement at the checkpoint where the shooting occurred, the official said.
— The Jordanian government confirmed that one of its citizens has been kidnapped in Iraq by gunmen apparently seeking to ransom him. Samir Rajab al-Suqi, manager of a Kuwait-based furniture company, was captured after inspecting the firm's office in Baghdad on Sunday, said Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Rajab Sukayri.