Iraqis Shore Up Cabinet Posts

After months of delays, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search) and parliament filled six vacancies in the Cabinet of Iraq's new government on Sunday, including four politicians from the country's disaffected Sunni (search) minority.

In a vote in parliament, 112 of the 155 legislators present approved al-Jaafari's six nominations, including Shiite Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum as the new oil minister and Sunni Muslim Saadoun al-Duleimi as the defense minister. As required, President Jalal Talabani (search) and his two vice presidents had approved al-Jaafri's nominations before the parliamentary vote.

In a sign of how difficult it was to reconcile differences among Iraq's Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs during more than three months of debate over the Cabinet vacancies, 120 of the legislators in the National Assembly were absent when parliament voted Sunday.

Sunnis are believed to make up the backbone of Iraq's deadly insurgency, and they ruled for decades under Saddam Hussein, whose government and Baath Party (search) brutally repressed Shiites and Kurds.

The other four newly filled Cabinet posts were Hashim Abdul-Rahman al-Shibli, a Sunni, as human rights minister; Mihsin Shlash, a Shiite, as electricity minister; Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni, as industry minister; and Abed Mutlak al-Jiburi, a Sunni, as a deputy prime minister. Al Shibli, however, turned down the post saying he was selected only because he was a Sunni Arab.

"Concentrating on sectarian identities leads to divisions in the society and state, and for that reason I respectfully decline the post," al-Shibli told reporters at a news briefing.

One final portfolio in the government's 37-member Cabinet remained vacant, that of the fourth deputy prime ministers.

"We're done with the government. The five Cabinet ministers have been named as well as the deputy prime minister," al-Jaafari said at a news conference after parliament's vote. "I would like to have a woman as my fourth deputy prime minister."

Al-Jaafari had promised to form a government that includes all of Iraq's major ethnic and religious groups after his Shiite-dominated alliance won a majority of seats in landmark parliamentary elections on Jan. 30. But bickering over Cabinet positions had dragged on for months, and Shiite leaders had rejected numerous Cabinet candidates submitted by Sunni negotiators because of ties to Saddam's regime, which brutally repressed Shiites and Kurds.

Al-Uloum, 51, the new oil minister, held the same post during the period of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council. He is a member of the powerful Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance, and earned his undergraduate degree in oil engineering from Baghdad University in 1976 before receiving his master's degree and a Ph.D in petroleum engineering from the University of New Mexico.

Al-Duleimi, the new defense minister, is a Sunni former Lt. Col. of Saddam's powerful General Security Organization. He left Iraq in 1984 and lived in exile in Saudi Arabia and stayed there until the fall of Saddam's regime in April 2003.

As the appointments were made, insurgent violence raged on in the capital Sunday outside the heavily fortified government buildings.

Militants shot and killed a senior official in Iraq's Transportation Ministry, Zoba Yass, and his driver in the Dora area of southern Baghdad as they drove to work, a police officer and officials at the transportation and interior ministries said on condition of anonymity.

The officials said it wasn't immediately clear whether the insurgents were in a vehicle or on foot when they opened fire, but that they had escaped from the scene.

Also in Baghdad, police Maj. Gen. Sabbah Abdul-Hadi said he was accidentally shot and wounded by U.S. troops early Sunday when they returned fire from insurgents in the western neighborhood of Khadra.

Lying in a hospital bed at Baghdad's Yarmouk hospital, Abdul-Hadi showed an Associated Press photographer two bullet wounds in his right shoulder and one in his face.

"When I saw them coming, I parked on the side of a street, but they still opened fire," said Abdul-Hadi of the American forces.

The U.S. military said it had no immediate information about the reported shooting or that Abdul-Hadi had been wounded.