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Iraq Transition

Iraq's new unity government sworn in

Ambassador: Move could lead to U.S. troop downsizing

From left: PM-designate Nuri al-Maliki and Cabinet members Barham Salih and Salam al-Zawbai, on Saturday.


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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's first permanent government since the fall of Saddam Hussein was approved by parliament and sworn in on Saturday, despite the failure to fill three ministry posts because of political disputes.

"The main problem now is security, and they could not appoint defense and interior [ministers]," said prominent Sunni Muslim politician Saleh al-Mutlag, who walked out of the proceedings.

"This session is illegal," al-Mutlag said. "They added seven ministries without getting approval." Al-Mutlag said he and others had asked the government to wait longer to try to fill the critical posts. (Watch why the historic day was not trouble-free -- 3:49)

Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki said he would temporarily run the Interior Ministry, and he made a temporary appointment to the Defense Ministry -- Salam al-Zawbai, a Sunni politician who also had been designated as a deputy prime minister.

A third Cabinet post -- ministry of state for national security -- also remains open and will be temporarily overseen by designated Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, a Kurd.

Shiites are predominant on the list of Cabinet members for the government's new four-year term, reflecting the Muslim sect's strong showing in the December 15 parliamentary election and their large population in Iraq -- an estimated 60 percent.

U.S. President Bush vowed to support the new administration. "The United States and freedom-loving nations around the world will stand with Iraq as it takes its place among the world's democracies and as an ally in the war on terror," he said in a written statement. (Full story)

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the national unity government is expected to spur change that might "allow adjustments in terms of size, composition and mission of our forces."

U.S. troop levels are dependent on conditions, he said, and there would be occasional "tactical increases here and there" but the new government will have a "positive effect."

"Strategically, we're going to be in the direction of downsizing our forces."

UK: No 'easy road'

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett welcomed the new government but noted that developing democracy "is not going to be an easy road."

As political infighting left gaps in the government, a roadside bombing, apparently targeting laborers, killed 22 people in Baghdad's Shiite Sadr City neighborhood.

Despite yet another incident of the everyday deadly violence in Iraq, many lawmakers spoke optimistically of the new Cabinet. Deputy parliament speaker Khalid al-Attiyah declared it a "historic day for Iraq."

"We pray to God almighty to give us strength so we can meet the ambitious goals of our people who have suffered a lot," al-Maliki told the 275-member body.

He promised a government of national unity and described an agenda that includes bringing together Iraq's disparate communities, building security, and providing necessary services.

The new ministers took their oath of office, promising to "preserve the independence and sovereignty of Iraq" and its people, and to "protect its integrity."

Britain's Beckett, in a written statement, said, "if both Iraq and the international community are to defeat those who advocate violence, the new Iraqi government is going to have to take tough decisions on building democratic structures, building up their security forces and developing their economy."

Beckett's Iraqi counterpart, Foreign Minister Hoshayr Zebari, a Kurd, will continue in that post in the new Cabinet. Husayn al-Shahrastani, a Shiite ex-deputy parliamentary speaker, has been named the Cabinet oil minister. Baqir Jabr al-Zubaydi, a controversial transitional interior minister, has been named the finance minister.

Of the 40 permanent government posts, 37 have been selected so far and four have been allocated to women.

Wijdan Mikaeil, the only Christian chosen, is the human rights minister. Fatin Abdel-Rahman, a Sunni, is the minister of state for women's affairs. Narmin Othman, a Kurd, is environment minister, and Bayan Dazee, a Kurd, is housing and construction minister.

CNN's Ryan Chilcote, Barbara Starr and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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