BAGHDAD -- Iraq's parliament approved three key security officials yesterday, ending an impasse that had threatened Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's plan for Iraqis to gradually take over security from the US and other foreign troops.
The three men were sworn in just minutes after Maliki, in a separate event, announced that US forces had killed terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose Al Qaeda in Iraq group has been blamed for some of Iraq's bloodiest bombings.
While welcoming his death, Iraqi and American officials warned that many insurgents remain, and there were at least five bombings yesterday that killed at least 39 people and wounded around 120.
The new appointments are considered crucial for Maliki's government to implement a plan that foresees Iraq taking over responsibility for security within 18 months. That would open the way for the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops.
Efforts to name the defense, interior, and national security ministers had been snarled by squabbling among the Shi'ite, Sunni Arab, and Kurdish parties in the unity government that took office May 20. The frictions were fed by the surge in sectarian conflict in recent months.
Iraq's new defense minister is General Abdul-Qader Mohammed Jassim al-Mifarji, a Sunni Arab. Members of that formerly dominant minority are the backbone of the insurgency, and many people feel it is crucial to have Sunnis deeply involved in the new government to weaken support for the guerrillas.
The other two appointments came from the Shi'ite majority -- Jawad al-Bolani as interior minister and Sherwan al-Waili as minister of state for national security.
Sunni Arabs demanded that the defense ministry, which runs the military, balance the Shi'ites' control of the interior ministry, which oversees police forces and some security services.
Despite the weeks of negotiations, the choices didn't meet universal approval.
A Sunni Arab from Anbar Province, an area west of the capital where insurgents are active, complained that the new defense minister took part in military operations in the region. ``As I represent those who elected me in Anbar Province, and especially in Fallujah, I'm here to express our rejection for . . . Jassim," said Sheik Khalil Jadou of Ramadi.
Mifarji, who is not affiliated with any Sunni Arab party, told the legislature that he graduated from the Iraqi military academy in 1969 and was thrown out of the army and Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party in 1991 after he criticized the invasion of Kuwait. He said that led to his conviction by a military court in 1994 and a seven-year prison sentence.
Waili, the new interior minister, is an independent member of the biggest Shi'ite political bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance. He is an aeronautical engineering graduate of Baghdad's University of Technology and worked as an engineer in the Iraqi air force until 1999.
A graduate of Iraq's military school of engineering, he was jailed following the Shi'ite uprising of 1991 in the southern city of Basra, which came after a US-led alliance drove the Iraqi Army from Kuwait.
While legislators accepted the new security chiefs, violence claimed lives across Baghdad.
A bomb targeting a police patrol killed two officers and four civilians and wounded 11 people in the New Baghdad area in the eastern part of the city, Lieutenant Ali Abbas said.
The worst bloodshed came about an hour later, when a bomb exploded at the entrance to a fruit market in the same area. Thirteen people, including two women, died and at least 39 people suffered wounds, police Colonel Ahmed Abod said.
A parked car loaded with explosives blew up in the northern suburb of Kazimiyah, killing six people and wounding 15, police said. Police Captain Mohammed Al-Waili said the attack appeared aimed at day laborers.
Another parked car exploded in the capital's eastern Amin market area, killing five people and wounding more than a dozen, police said.
A car bomb later hit an outdoor market in the al-Shaab neighborhood, a mixed Sunni-Shi'ite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, killing at least nine people and wounding 42, police Lieutenant Thaer Mahmoud said.