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New Iraqi Government Sworn In, with Gaps

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Iraq's transitional government was formally sworn into office in Baghdad today, but it's still a work in progress. There have been days of negotiations over how to bring Sunni Arabs into the Cabinet, which jobs to give them and who should have them. As NPR's Phillip Reeves reports from Baghdad, Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jafari, a Shiite, is having a hard time completing his government.

PHILLIP REEVES reporting:

From the moment they appeared before the cameras, it was obvious the job still wasn't done.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: Member after member of Iraq's new Cabinet, somber-faced, walked to the podium to place a hand on the Koran and pledge allegiance to Iraq. But someone was missing. The government's most senior member of the Arab Sunni minority, Iraqi Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer, wasn't at the ceremony. He's played a central role in negotiations and the government's formation. His absence appeared to signal that three months after the election, agreement has yet to be reached over the representation of the minority Sunni Arabs. Prime Minister Jafari laid the blame on the Sunnis.

Prime Minister IBRAHIM AL-JAFARI (Iraq): (Through Translator) There is some misunderstanding between the Sunnis themselves. There were disputes, so we were keen not to rush them.

REEVES: There's still no permanent defense minister, a job earmarked for Sunni Arabs, and no minister of oil. Three other ministerial slots and two deputy prime minister positions also remain undecided. The government's dominated by the Shia, who so far have 15 Cabinet posts, including the all-important Interior minister, and by the Kurds, who hold seven positions.

After today's ceremony, held in Baghdad's US-run fortresslike Green Zone, Jafari tried to reassure Iraqis by saying the government vacancies would be filled in the coming days. He said even without them, his transitional government has now been formed.

Prime Min. AL-JAFARI: (Through Translator) The Cabinet is formed. We wish that everyone would witness the swearing-in. Some didn't; they joined us later, and that's natural.

REEVES: Iraqis have been waiting impatiently for the new government to emerge. The squabbling over jobs has created disillusionment on the streets. This sentiment is particularly strong among Sunni Arabs, who dominated under Saddam and who play a leading role in the insurgency. One reason for the delays is that the Shia have been objecting to Sunni nominees, alleging some played too large a part in Saddam's dictatorial regime. But Jafari had this message for former Baathists.

Prime Min. AL-JAFARI: (Through Translator) I would like to tell those who stood once with Saddam that the heart of the Iraqi people is big. I shall embrace you unless your hands are covered with blood. Dialogue shall take us to where your bullets failed.

REEVES: This impasse has coincided with a wave of insurgent attacks in which more than 140 people have died since the incomplete Cabinet was approved by Parliament Thursday.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

Unidentified Man #3: Test, test, test.

(Soundbite of person tapping on microphone)

REEVES: At a press conference today, Prime Minister Jafari insisted the absence of Vice President Yawer didn't indicate a breakdown in negotiations.

Prime Min. AL-JAFARI: (Through Translator) We were waiting for Sheik al-Yawer. Everyone was waiting for him. But there's no problem at all. Time was running on and no one knew why he didn't show up, so I decided that the session would go on, and this is democracy.

REEVES: The deadlock's a concern for US officials who've been pressing for a full government to take office and lead the fight against Iraq's violent insurgency. Today that violence continued. Phillip Reeves, NPR News, Baghdad. 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.