BAGHDAD, Iraq – President Jalal Talabani (search) and his two vice presidents approved most of a proposed Cabinet for Iraq's transitional government that would reflect Iraq's (search) religious and ethnic diversity, officials said Thursday.
Last-minute discussions continued over three of the 36 ministries — the important defense, oil, and electricity portfolios — officials said, and that could delay a vote by the National Assembly on the new Cabinet that has been expected Thursday.
Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search), who had announced the Cabinet on Wednesday without releasing the names, could temporarily fill the three disputed portfolios so that parliament could vote on the Cabinet as a whole, officials said.
Many Iraqis believe the country's nearly three-month political impasse over the ministries has emboldened Sunni-led insurgents who have staged a series of dramatic and well-coordinated attacks in recent weeks.
On Wednesday, Lamia Abed Khadouri al-Sakri, 50, a Shiite Muslim legislator, was killed at her home, becoming the first elected official slain since millions of Iraqis voted in the country's landmark election for parliament on Jan. 30.
Also, a deadline set by Iraqi militants threatening to kill three kidnapped Romanian journalists and their Iraqi-American translator lapsed Wednesday night with no word on their fate.
In new attacks Thursday, four Iraqis were killed by a mortar attack south of Baghdad, and two government workers were killed in the capital. A suicide car bombing in northern Iraq also wounded four Iraqi soldiers, three U.S. soldiers and seven Iraqi civilians, officials said.
Washington recently urged Iraq to form a transitional government so it can step up and coordinate efforts to suppress the insurgency.
After al-Jaafari submitted the proposed new Cabinet to Talabani and his two vice presidents Wednesday, they approved it, Shiite and Kurdish officials and politicians in outgoing Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqi List, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The portfolio disputes involved oil and electricity, which were to be given to Shiites, and defense, which was to be a Sunni post, said Abbas al-Biati, an official in al-Jaafari's United Iraqi Alliance, the largest bloc in parliament.
But Jaafari would temporarily fill those three portfolios so that parliament could still vote on the Cabinet on Thursday, said Hussein Shaalan, an official with the Iraqi List.
Al-Jaafari struggled to reconcile the competing demands of Iraq's myriad factions in the Cabinet.
Speaking to reporters on the steps of his office Wednesday night, he said: "The Iraqis will find that this government has religious, ethnic, political and geographic variety, in addition to the participation of women. Now that the process has started, we will spare no effort to bring back a smile to children's faces."
Al-Jaafaari said he was confident that parliament would join Talabani in approving the Cabinet and that a formal handover between Allawi and his successor would take place in the coming days.
Al-Jaafari said his Cabinet would include 32 ministers and at least three deputy premiers, in addition to himself. A fourth deputy could also be added, he said, offering no explanation.
The Cabinet would have 17 Shiite Arab ministers, eight Kurds, six Sunni Arabs and one Christian, fulfilling promises by leaders of the Shiite majority to share power with ethnic and religious minorities, lawmakers said.
Seven of the ministers would be women, al-Jaafari said.
Members of al-Jaafari's United Iraqi Alliance, said the deputy premiers would come from each of Iraq's main Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions.
The Shiite deputy would be former Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi, head of an Iraqi exile group that provided intelligence to the United States on Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, said Chalabi's spokesman, Entifadh Qanbar, and other alliance members.
The Kurdish deputy would be former Vice President Rowsch Nouri Shaways, according to Fouad Massoum, a senior Kurdish official, and Shiite lawmakers.
Saad Zedan Lehebi was al-Jaafari's initial choice for the Sunni deputy, but Shiite leaders raised concerns that he might have been a member of Saddam's Baath Party, which brutally repressed the majority Shiites and Kurds, said alliance lawmaker Baha al-Aaragi. It was not immediately clear who was selected in his place.
Al-Jaafari had also intended to give the defense ministry to Saadon al-Dulaimi, another Sunni, but he was rejected for the same reason, al-Aaragi said. It wasn't known who replaced him either.
National security adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie from the Shiite alliance will retain his post, said a statement from his office.
Shiite lawmakers said Allawi's Iraqi List party, which has 40 seats in the National Assembly, was not included in the new Cabinet. They said they had given up trying to balance Allawi's demands with those of Sunni factions that could offer help in beginning talks with Sunni militants, who are believed to be the backbone of the insurgency.
Shiites make up 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people. The Kurds make up 20 percent, and the Sunni Arabs, who largely stayed away from the elections either in boycott or for fear of attacks, are roughly 15 percent to 20 percent.
In Thursday's violence 12 mortar shells hit the center of Musayyib city, 40 miles south of Baghdad, killing four Iraqis and wounding 12, said police Capt. Muthana Khalid. He said most of the explosives occurred at a bus station.
In Baghdad, Gen. Muhsin Ali Abdelsada, the Interior Ministry's deputy of criminal intelligence, was shot and killed in a drive by shooting in the southern neighborhood of Dora, two police officers said on condition of anonymity.
A suicide car bomb exploded near an Iraqi army checkpoint outside Tikrit in northern Iraq, wounding four Iraqi soldiers, three U.S. soldiers and seven Iraqi civilians, the American military said.
In another attack, Lt. Col. Ala'a Khalil Ibrahim, who worked in the visa section of the Interior Ministry, was shot dead on the way to work in Baghdad's eastern section of al-Shaab, police said.