BAGHDAD, Iraq – The first democratically elected government in the history of Iraq was sworn in Tuesday against a backdrop of surging violence, and the new Shiite prime minister pledged before a half-empty parliament that he would unite the country's rival ethnic factions and fight terrorism.
Despite months of tortuous negotiations, there was no final decision on seven positions in the 37-member Cabinet — including the key oil and defense ministries. More critical still, the partial Cabinet fails to give the country's disaffected Sunni Arab minority, believed to be driving the insurgency, a meaningful governing stake.
Many lawmakers skipped the ceremony, which took place in a conference hall deep within Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. Among those absent was the government's most senior Sunni member, Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer (search).
The Cabinet that took office Tuesday includes 16 Shiite Arabs, nine Kurds, four Sunnis and one Christian. Two deputy prime minister's slots — including one Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search) hopes to offer to a woman — were left vacant and five ministerial portfolios are in temporary hands.
Al-Jaafari played down the disputes still roiling his government more than three months after millions of Iraqis risked their lives to vote in landmark parliamentary elections on Jan. 30.
He blamed the delay in filling the Cabinet on Sunni infighting and said the matter would be resolved in two to three days.
"But we are not in a hurry," he told reporters after Tuesday's ceremony. "We want the choice to be accepted by all the Iraqi people."
Al-Jaafari's government has less than eight months left to complete its main tasks: draft a new constitution by mid-August and submit it to a referendum no later than Oct. 15. If approved, new elections must be held by Dec. 15, under Iraq's transitional law.
Al-Jaafari pledged to get to work confronting the "heavy legacy" left by Saddam Hussein (search) — a country afflicted by poverty, corruption and mass graves.
"This government belongs to the Iraqi people," he said. "Iraqis will reap the fruits of their sacrifices. These sacrifices have not gone in vain."
But even with some Sunnis in government, insurgents have made it clear there will be no letup in the violence tearing at the country, unleashing a torrent of bombings, ambushes and other attacks that have killed nearly 150 people since the National Assembly approved the partial Cabinet lineup on Thursday.
Violence continued Tuesday, including scattered bombings as well as a gun battle in Ramadi that the U.S. military said killed 12 suspected militants.
Investigators concluded that two missing U.S. Marine fighter jets likely collided over southern Iraq late Monday, a senior U.S. defense official said at the Pentagon. The body of one of the two pilots was located early Tuesday, the U.S. military said in Baghdad.
Separately, the U.S. military announced it had recovered a letter that appeared to be addressed to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search) complaining about the incompetence of leaders in his al-Qaida in Iraq terror network and low morale among his followers.
The authenticity of the letter could not be independently confirmed, but it was the latest in a series of claims by U.S.-led forces of progress in the fight against the insurgency, including defeating militants in skirmishes, raiding their hidden arms caches and getting tips about them from Iraqi informants.
Al-Jaafari had promised to form a government that would win over the Sunnis, offering them six ministries and a deputy prime minister's slot. But members of his Shiite-dominated alliance rejected candidates with ties to Saddam's regime, which brutally repressed the majority Shiites and Kurds.
Further complicating negotiations were demands by Kurdish leaders for the human rights ministry, which al-Jaafari had intended to offer to a Sunni, lawmakers said. There has also been competition within al-Jaafari's own alliance for the electricity and oil ministries.
Al-Jaafari himself will be acting defense minister, a post he hopes to fill with a Sunni. And former Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi (search), a Shiite Arab and one of four deputy prime ministers, has temporary responsibility for the oil ministry.
The new government will hold its first meeting within days, al-Jaafari said.
Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite whose caretaker government took charge of the country while al-Jaafari struggled to form his Cabinet, did not attend Tuesday's ceremony. His office said he was out of the country, but declined to say where.
Allawi's Iraqi List party was not included in the new Cabinet, but has said it will work with the government from the opposition.
Also absent Tuesday was al-Yawer.
"If al-Yawer attended the ceremony, it would have been the end of him politically," said Mishaan al-Jubouri, head of a disgruntled Sunni coalition that had hoped for more seats in Cabinet. "I entered the hall and went out again on purpose, just to show them that I am not agreeing with what is happening."
The clash in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, came when insurgents attacked a checkpoint, touching off a gun battle that killed 12 militants, the U.S. military said. One Iraqi soldier and a civilian died in the fighting and two soldiers were wounded. Two U.S. Marines were also slightly injured and five militants were captured.
In Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, unidentified gunmen killed three Iraqi policemen in three separate attacks, police said. Insurgents also attacked police with gunfire and grenades in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, killing one civilian, the U.S. military said.
A car bomb exploded in western Baghdad, killing two Iraqis and wounding two others, the U.S. military said.