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New Iraq Cabinet takes office, pledging to stop terrorism

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's battling communities came together yesterday to approve their first full-term government since the fall of Saddam Hussein, placing a nation fractured from three years of war into the hands of a diverse but weak Cabinet.

In a stuffy chamber tucked deep inside rings of blast walls, barbed wire, and bomb-sniffing dogs, parliament voted in favor of a 35-member Cabinet cobbled together by new Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

In the heart of the Green Zone, far from the reach of ordinary Iraqis, lawmakers raised their hands to vet each member of the mostly male government.

Although it was marked by a walkout by a handful of angry Sunni lawmakers, the inauguration shattered the deadlock that had paralyzed Iraqi governance since December.

''I stand solemnly before the souls of our martyrs and the precious blood offered by Iraqis, and seek inspiration from our people's steadfastness, sacrifices, and pains, the imprisonment, torture, killing, and terrorism they've faced," Maliki told parliament. ''Just as we did away with the tyrant [Saddam Hussein] and the days of oppression and despotism, we will do away with terrorism and sabotage."

But Maliki, a Shi'ite Muslim whose political acumen is tinged with a deep-seated Islamism, faces a perilous obstacle course. He has a Cabinet so wide-ranging it's prone to collapse, a 34-point program that runs the impossible gamut of Iraq's wish list -- and a disillusioned, weary nation to govern.

The new prime minister has yet to quell a swelling crisis over the management of Iraq's security services. In the end, staring down a Monday deadline to appoint a Cabinet, Maliki delayed decisions on the key posts of interior, defense, and national security. To buy time and push the government through parliament, he nominated temporary fill-ins -- himself and his two deputies.

''This government won't be a panacea for solving all problems, but it's a beginning," said Hoshyar Zebari, the Kurdish foreign minister. ''We wanted to present the whole Cabinet; it would have been better."

President Bush praised the new government, saying it ''reflects Iraq's diversity and opens a new chapter in that country's history. . . . As Iraq's leaders work together to chart the future of their nation, bringing freedom and security to the Iraqi people, they make the world a safer place for all of us."

Safe streets and restored peace are the overwhelming desires of the Iraqi people, and the looming priorities for any government that hopes to win public confidence. Not only have the security ministries been struggling in the face of daily killings, but some of the police units have been accused of roving the streets as Shi'ite death squads.

Violence continued to rage outside the Green Zone yesterday as the gears of government ground on. At least 20 people were killed in a homemade-bomb blast in Sadr City, the predominantly Shi'ite slum in Baghdad. Fifteen corpses turned up in the capital, all with wrists bound and signs of torture, an Interior Ministry source said. In Yousefiya, insurgents planted explosives on an oil pipeline, setting off a massive blaze.

The steady carnage poses a challenge to the Bush administration, too: Untainted, effective security services are essential to US hopes of fading gradually from Iraq's streets by reducing troops and patrols.

US officials insist that their best hope is a representative government. Bloodshed will slow, they say, if Iraqis from all backgrounds and provinces feel included.

''I'm not here to signal that just because the government has formed, the national unity government, that events will improve dramatically," US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters. ''I believe Iraq . . . is put on the right path. Now all communities are stakeholders with regard to the new Iraq."

On the surface, the Cabinet of Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds unveiled yesterday is just the body to appease a torn nation. Urbanites keen for a secular state sit alongside pious Iraqis in search of Islamic rule; advocates of loose federalism vie against leaders demanding a strong central government.

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