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Iraq close to permanent government

UAE diplomat kidnapped in Baghdad

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Iraqi deputies attend the parliament session Wednesday in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq is inching ever closer to forming a permanent government, after more than five months of arduous negotiations.

The prime minister-designate plans to present his Cabinet nominations to lawmakers on Saturday, according to a letter he sent to Iraq's parliament speaker.

Speaker Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani made the announcement to the 275-member parliament on Wednesday.

The body, officially called the Council of Representatives, is scheduled to reconvene on Saturday and is expected to vote on the nominations then.

If it approves the Cabinet nominations, a government will be formed, ending a transitional leadership phase that began when Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.

Robert Ford, political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, welcomed the news.

"It's important to recognize that these negotiations were long and difficult because we have a fundamentally different Iraqi government emerging," Ford told reporters in a conference call from Baghdad.

He said that because politicians from the major Sunni blocs were democratically elected to the parliament and took part in the negotiations for Cabinet posts, the new Iraqi government will be much more inclusive and enjoy broader support than the previous government under interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

An American diplomat in discussions with the Iraqi government added that because the Iraqis are negotiating the names among themselves before they go to a vote, it is expected the names will be accepted.

The diplomat added that while the posts for ministers of interior and defense have not yet been filled, the short list of those being considered includes "credible names" of people who enjoy confidence from all of the Iraqi factions.

Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki has shown "good instincts" in recruiting people for those two posts who are independent, have international credibility and not tied to sectarian agendas, this diplomat said.

The United States has been impressed with al-Maliki the diplomat said, calling him a "results-oriented ... straight talker." He is seen by the United States as an Iraqi nationalist who will not succumb to pressure from Iran, the diplomat said.

"He doesn't want Iraq beholden to its neighbors," he said, adding that the Arab world is "warming up" to Iraq and will find in al-Maliki "someone they can do business with and will want to do business with."

The United States, the diplomat said, expects that al-Maliki will deal with Iraqi militias over time.

"This is not done in a vacuum," he said, pointing out the process will involve beefing up Iraqi police and forging agreements with militia members so they feel safe enough to put down their weapons.

He said the goal is to "marginalize extremists" by bringing in more Iraqis who are willing to accept the political process.

The inclusion of al-Mashhadani, the Sunni speaker of the Council of Representatives, and Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni leader who was in strong opposition to the al-Jaafari government but emerged as the choice for the country's new vice president, shows "the political process works," he said.

Al-Maliki has a constitutionally mandated deadline of Monday to come up with a list.

Forming a government has been a lengthy task for lawmakers, who have been negotiating since voters went to the polls on December 15 to elect a four-year parliament.

Disagreements over the selection of a prime minister delayed the process, but the selection of al-Maliki, a Shiite, broke the logjam.

Al-Maliki and other lawmakers have agreed to include all religious and ethnic groups in the political process and to fill the posts with professionals rather than political hacks.

UAE envoy kidnapped

Gunmen kidnapped a United Arab Emirates diplomat in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood Tuesday evening, wounding his bodyguard in the process, police said.

The diplomat was taken captive while visiting a cultural center operated by the UAE embassy in the Mansour district of western Baghdad, police said. The diplomat's name was not immediately known.

His Sudanese bodyguard was shot during the abduction, but he survived and described the attack to investigators, police said. No further details were immediately available.

The attack was the second in two weeks involving employees of the UAE Embassy in Iraq. On May 3, two Iraqis working for the embassy were killed during an attack on their car, according to the Emirates News Agency.

Other developments

  • The trial of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants heard from defense witnesses, including one who drew objections from Hussein because he was a young child at the time of a deadly government crackdown in 1982. The trial then adjourned until Monday. ( Full story)
  • In other violence Tuesday, a shooting and a car bombing killed 23 people at a garage in northeast Baghdad, police said. Gunmen stormed the garage and killed five people. A car bomb outside the garage later killed 18 civilians and injured 33 others, police said. Elsewhere in Baghdad, attackers killed 14 people Tuesday.
  • CNN's Cal Perry and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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