Iraq Finalizes First Full-term Government Since Saddam’s Fall

The breakthrough came shortly after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, had been killed Wednesday night in an American air strike.

Weeks of deadlock over the three appointments cast doubt over al-Maliki’s ability to form a government of national unity. The parliament approved 36 ministers May 20 but left the three most important posts vacant after failing to reach a consensus among Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders.

Sunni leaders had accused the interior ministry, which is in charge of the Iraqi police force, of supporting Shiite death squads that carried out raids against Sunnis.

Parliament approved al-Maliki’s nominations of Jawad al-Bolani, a Shiite, as interior minister, and Gen. Abdel Qader Jassim, a Sunni who before the nomination served as Iraqi ground forces commander, as the defense minister. Sherwan Waeli, a Shiite, will be the minister for national security. The new ministers pledged to improve security for all people in Iraq.

“I promise (the Iraqi people) that the interior ministry will be neutral, independent and will not be under the influence of anyone,” said Bolani.

U.S. officials said they hope the newly formed Iraqi government will help ease sectarian violence that has risen in recent months and threatened to plunge Iraq into a civil war.

The defense ministry controls the Iraqi military force, which Iraqis hold in greater confidence than the police force. but questions remain if it can operate independently of American support in the event of a substantial withdrawal of U.S. troops.

A Shiite coalition won the most votes in Iraq’s first parliamentary elections held in December 2005 and appointed Maliki, a Shiite member of the Dawa Party, as prime minister in late April after Sunnis and Kurds rejected the nomination of Ibrahim al-Jaafari who served as the interim prime minister.

Al-Maliki oversaw the interior ministry and chose a Sunni Arab deputy prime minister to oversee the defense ministry and the Kurdish deputy prime minister to act as the acting national security ministry while negotiating permanent appointments.

The full cabinet includes 19 members of the dominant Shiite coalition, seven Kurds, eight members of the Sunni coalition and five members of former prime minister Iyad Allawi’s secular alliance.