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New Iraqi Cabinet Ministers Confirmed

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Iraq's Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jafari and his Cabinet ministers were sworn into office today at a ceremony in Baghdad. The Cabinet posts reserved for members of Iraq's Sunni Arab community have still not been filled and the continued squabbling between the Sunnis and leaders of the country's Shiite majority. NPR's Philip Reeves joins us on the line from Baghdad.

Hello, Philip.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Hello.

MONTAGNE: Now the excitement of this new government is probably been cut because after weeks of negotiations it seems Prime Minister Jafari has still not been able to resolve the question of which Sunnis will be members of his Cabinet.

REEVES: That's right. It seems that he's having extreme difficulty forming this government. There is still no defense minister; that's a post that was allocated to the Sunnis. They haven't been able to, it appears, to reach an agreement about that. There's still no oil minister, still no electricity minister. And it's important to put it in the context of what's been going on in Iraq in the last five days since this Cabinet was first put to the Iraqi parliament. We've had a barrage of car bombings in Baghdad, at least 16 of those. Some 140 people have been killed in violence in Iraq over five days and a great feeling from the Sunni minority, which has been watching these events, hoping to see a government which would have some Sunni representation in it, of disenchantment that's been coming out from Iraqis on the streets. And today's developments suggest that that disenchantment will now grow further.

MONTAGNE: And who will then fill key positions that have been reserved for the Sunnis?

REEVES: They have acting ministers who include Ahmad Chalabi, who was once as you might recall a minister--the favorite of the Pentagon and is a rather controversial figure. He has been acting minister of oil. I assume that those acting arrangements will continue while these negotiations go on about trying to find a place for the Sunni minority, the Arab Sunni minority, in this government of Ibrahim Al-Jafari.

MONTAGNE: And why has it been so difficult to reach an agreement on this Cabinet and these Sunni--to find Sunni candidates?

REEVES: It's very complex and there are lots of side-bar issues that have been overlapping with the major theme, but the major theme I think is whether the people that the Sunnis are putting forward for these jobs are deemed by the Shiite majority, that now essentially controls parliament and is very influential--the largest group in this government--whether those nominees are deemed by them to be unacceptable on the grounds of their links to the regime of Saddan Hussein. That's a key issue here and it has dominated the discussions of the last few days and clearly hasn't been resolved, although as I say, there are other issues in play, too.

MONTAGNE: Meanwhile, as you said earlier, the insurgency continues. Tell us the latest on that.

REEVES: Well it's been another violent day. There's been fighting in Ramadi in which 12 people have been killed. The US military says that they are 12 insurgents. There's been a car bomb in Baghdad. There's been some trouble in Samarra. And there was a battle recently--or we learned today of a battle near the Syrian border when US forces spotted a suspect truck, followed it to an isolated tent and shed. There was a--they tried to intercept the truck, there was a shootout and nine insurgents were killed in that and then a further three when the Americans called in an air strike.

This violence has been going on for five days now at a heightened level, and I think the concern is going to be because of this failure to find a solution in creating a complete government and one which does involve the Sunnis, that the concern is going to be that these--this level of violence will now continue and the insurgents will exploit the political deadlock.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Philip Reeves speaking from Baghdad.

Philip, thank you.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.