BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq's incoming prime minister struggled to find a Sunni Arab (search) to run the key Defense Ministry in time to join Iraq's first democratically elected government when it takes office Tuesday. A torrent of bloodshed — at least 140 killed in five days — followed the approval of a Cabinet that mostly shut out members of the disaffected Sunni minority.
Disputes persisted over the Defense Ministry on Monday after Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search) filled six of the seven Cabinet seats left undecided last week, said al-Jaafari aide Laith Kuba. The defense portfolio — in charge of some 70,000 soldiers and national guardsmen — is destined for a Sunni, part of an attempt to balance the conflicting demands of Iraq's many religious and ethnic factions.
The U.S. military, meanwhile, was searching for two missing U.S. Marine jets. The status of the two F/A-18 Hornet (search) aircraft and their crew was not immediately known, the military said in a statement. Contact was lost with the aircraft at 10:10 p.m. Monday, the statement said. There were no initial indications of hostile fire in the area at the time.
At least 23 Iraqis were killed Monday, including eight soldiers cut down by a homicide attacker who blew up a truck at a checkpoint south of the capital, and six civilians caught in a car bombing that set fire to a Baghdad apartment building.
An American soldier and a British soldier were killed in separate roadside bombings Monday, officials said.
The U.S. military said the American was killed and another U.S. soldier wounded late Monday during a patrol south of Baghdad airport. No other details were immediately available.
The British soldier from the 12th Mechanized Brigade died of injures inflicted in Amarah, 180 miles southeast of Baghdad. A total of 87 British troops have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war in 2003.
In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a statement strongly condemning the "cruel and heartless" violence apparently aimed at undermining Iraq's newly formed government.
The skyrocketing attacks are blamed on an insurgency believed largely made up of members of Iraq's Sunni minority, who dominated for decades under Saddam Hussein but were excluded from meaningful positions in a partial new Cabinet announced Thursday.
Al-Jaafari had promised to form a government that would win over Sunni moderates and reduce Sunni support for the insurgency, offering them six ministries and a deputy premiership. But Sunni politicians insisted they be given at least seven ministerial portfolios.
On Sunday, Kurdish factions agreed to give up one of their ministries to meet the Sunnis' demand, said Azad Junduiani, spokesman for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two main Kurdish parties.
Salih al-Mutlag, head of the National Dialogue Council, a coalition of 10 Sunni factions, identified the Sunni deputy prime minister as Abid Mutlag al-Juburi, a former major general in Saddam's army.
Al-Jaafari wants to have all positions finalized before the new Cabinet is sworn in Tuesday, Kuba said. But the handover between Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's caretaker government and the new Cabinet will likely go ahead even if there are still vacancies, the aide said.
On Jan. 30, millions of Iraqis risked their lives to elect the Shiite-dominated assembly, but many Sunnis boycotted the vote or stayed home for fear of attacks at the polls.
After months of wrangling, al-Jaafari has drawn up a Cabinet that so far includes 15 Shiite Arab ministers, seven Kurds, four Sunnis and one Christian. Two of four deputy prime ministers have also been approved, a Shiite and a Kurd.
Al-Jaafari said he would act as defense minister until one was agreed. And former Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi, the Shiite deputy prime minister, was given temporary responsibility for the key oil ministry.
But even with Sunnis in the Cabinet, Iraqi insurgents have made clear there will be no letup in the unrelenting violence of recent weeks. The country's most feared terror group, Al Qaeda in Iraq, has posted statements on the Internet saying any Iraqi government is a puppet of the U.S.-led coalition and that it will attack any Sunnis who join it.
Meanwhile, Saddam's chief lawyer, Ziad al-Khasawneh, accused unidentified Iranian-backed Iraqi politicians of plotting to assassinate the ousted leader in his prison cell. Iraqi national security adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie scoffed at the accusations, describing them as a ploy to have Saddam moved to another country to face an international court.
In Monday's violence, a homicide bomber exploded a truck at an Iraqi checkpoint near Youssifiyah, 12 miles south of Baghdad, killing eight soldiers and wounding 20, said Iraqi army Capt. Qassem Sharif.
Two car bombs in Baghdad killed at least nine more Iraqis. One exploded in an upscale shopping district in southern Baghdad and set fire to a six-story apartment building. Six civilians were killed and seven wounded in the explosion, which missed a police patrol, said police Lt. Col. Salman Abdul Karim al-Fartosi. As firefighters fought the blaze, thick black smoke and flames rose from the ground floor.
In eastern Baghdad, a car bomb exploded near a passport office, killing three Iraqis, including two policemen, and wounding six, three of them also policemen, said police Lt. Col. Hassan Chalob.
An American military patrol and a top Iraqi security official narrowly escaped two other bombings, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.
In northern Iraq, a homicide car bomb and another bomb went off in quick succession near an American patrol in the Mosul area, the U.S. military said. The coordinated attack killed at least two Iraqis and wounded 15, military spokesman Capt. Mark Walter said. Hospital officials, however, said four Iraqis were killed and seven injured.
Two other bomb blasts in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, caused minor injuries to U.S. soldiers, and a third one targeting Iraqi soldiers killed one civilian, Walter said. Gunfire in another attack killed another civilian, he said.
Coalition forces have hit back in recent weeks, detaining suspected militants and confiscating hidden arms caches. U.S. and Iraqi forces have detained 84 suspects in the Baghdad area since Sunday, the U.S. military said. An additional 52 suspects were detained Monday in a joint operation in the Diyarah area, south of the capital, the military said.