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Iraqi Governing Council Announces New Cabinet - 2003-09-01

The Iraqi Governing Council has named a cabinet of 25 ministers, the first since the fall of the Saddam Hussein government nearly five-months ago.

The Cabinet was announced Monday in Baghdad. It is divided along ethnic and sectarian lines, much like the Governing Council itself.

Shi'ite Muslims, who make up about 60 percent of the Iraqi population, hold 13 ministerial posts, including petroleum, interior, and trade.

The important oil ministry is headed by Ibrahim Mohamed Bahr al-Ulum, the son of a member of the governing council. Interior Minister Nuri Badran will face the difficult task of improving security amid a wave of terrorist bombings, daily attacks on coalition forces, and a crime wave by felons released from prison prior to the fall of the Hussein regime.

Sunni Muslims hold five ministries, including Finance and Labor. Kurdish leaders also hold five ministries, including the foreign affairs portfolio to be held by Hoshyar Zebari. Turkomen and Christians received one ministry each.

The cabinet does not have ministries of defense or information. These agencies, which included many of the former regime's most feared security services, are being reorganized.

Nor does the cabinet have a ministry of religious affairs, in deference to the sectarian tensions that are part of the legacy of the Saddam Hussein era.

The chairman of the Governing Council will act as prime minister. The leader of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi, took over the chairmanship, which rotates on a monthly basis.

The spokesman for the Provisional Coalition Authority, Charles Heatly, congratulated the Cabinet ministers on their appointment and praised the Governing Council for its choices. Questioned about the relationship between the ministers and coalition authority advisors who have been running the provisional administration, Mr. Heatly said the ministers will be responsible for day-to-day operations of their ministries. "We will cooperate with the Governing Council," he said. "We will cooperate with the ministries and we expect them to do the same with us. We do not expect there to be any great difference of views on these points. We are certainly not going to even expect consultation on most daily decisions on how they run their ministries."

Mr. Heatly said that on bigger decisions involving strategic or policy matters, the Iraqi ministers and coalition advisors will work together in, what he called, close cooperation.

The cabinet announcement was reportedly delayed by Friday's bomb attack at the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf that killed Shi'ite leader Ayatollah Mohamed Baqer al-Hakim and more than 80 followers. Coalition authorities say the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, at the request of the local governor, will participate in the investigation.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack at one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest shrines. There is speculation that the attack may have been the work of loyalists of the Saddam Hussein regime, Islamic terrorists, or rival Shi'ite groups.

The Arabic language television channel al-Jazeera broadcast a message it said was from former president Saddam Hussein, denying his followers were involved. The authenticity of the message has not been determined.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of mourners turned out to view the coffin of Ayatollah Baqer al-Hakim as it toured Baghdad and Karbala. Three days of mourning are to end Tuesday with his burial in Najaf.