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Iraqi Cabinet Sworn In; Defense, Oil Ministries Unfilled

Iraq PM Ibrahim al-Jaafari
Iraq Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has been sworn in with 29 members of his cabinet, but the country's political impasse continues with key portfolios unfilled.

Mr. Jaafari was nominated as prime minister by the Shi'ite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, following January 30 elections. But he has struggled to put together a balanced cabinet with power distributed equitably among Iraq's three main ethnic factions.

Five ministries were held by "acting ministers," while two deputy prime minister posts were left empty.

The situation did not change, even as the partial cabinet was sworn in.

Despite an optimistic, inclusive speech, Mr. Jaafari left seven permanent positions undecided. Critically, the defense portfolio, promised to the Sunnis after months of post-election horse trading, has not been finalized.

So, Mr. Jaafari has taken charge of it himself, for now.

The Shi'ite bloc formed a governing coalition with the second-place Kurdistan Alliance, but the two were unable to agree on how to share power until three months after the elections. Disputes continue over how to include Iraq's Sunni Arab minority in the government in a meaningful way.

The Sunnis, the main base of support for Iraq's ongoing anti-U.S. and anti-government insurgency, are severely under-represented in the 275-seat National Assembly.

Prodded by religious leaders, most Sunnis boycotted the vote, either to protest the presence of foreign troops or out of fear of insurgent reprisals.

The handful of Sunni politicians who are on board, meanwhile, have run into severe resistance from powerful Shi'ite parties within Mr. Jaafari's bloc. The Sunnis say Mr. Jaafari has shown an understanding of their plight, but blame "radicals" among the Shi'ite for rejecting an inclusive political deal.

Prominent members of the Shi'ite bloc have rejected several Sunni nominees for alleged links to the former regime of Saddam Hussein and are calling for a purge of Baathists from Iraq's revived security forces. U.S. officials say large-scale purges could make Iraqi-US military cooperation extremely difficult.

Some of the new Iraqi Army's most effective units are led by former Baathists.

Mr. Jaafari says he intends to honor his agreement to give the defense portfolio to a Sunni. He says the remaining names for his permanent cabinet would be announced in two or three days.