Iraqi officials prevailed in their choice for president over the candidate favored by the United States, allowing a U.N. envoy Tuesday to appoint an interim government reflecting Iraq's religious and cultural diversity to rule after the return of sovereignty June 30.
Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, a Sunni Muslim critic of the occupation, was named to the largely ceremonial post. Al-Yawer was the choice of the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council, which dissolved itself immediately so that the new government can start work even before it takes power from the American-led coalition at the end of the month.
Among its first tasks will be to negotiate a crucial agreement on the status of U.S.-led international forces that will remain here after sovereignty is restored and to tackle the country's tenuous security situation.
The selection occurred as the U.N. Security Council is debating a U.S.-draft resolution that critics — namely France, Russia and Germany — believe does not go far enough in granting Iraqis genuine power over their own national affairs.
Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, was traveling to New York on Tuesday to lobby for greater powers for the new Iraqi government once the occupation formally ends.
Strong explosions rolled through the heart of the capital even as word emerged of al-Yawer's selection. A car bomb at the headquarters of a pro-American Kurdish party killed three people, wounded about 20 and sent a mushroom cloud of smoke rising over the capital.
A car bomb also exploded outside a U.S. base in the northern town of Beiji, killing 11 Iraqis and wounding more than 22 people, including two U.S. soldiers. Fighting broke out between American soldiers and radical Shiite militiamen in the southern town of Kufa and a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad.
The new Cabinet — a prime minister, a deputy premier for security and 31 ministers who include six women — will take over day-to-day operations of government ministries immediately, although the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority remains the sole sovereign power in Iraq until June 30.
British-educated Shiite politician Iyad Allawi, a longtime opposition figure known for his close ties to the State Department and the CIA, was named prime minister on Friday.
The Cabinet draws its membership from Iraq's ethnic, religious and cultural mosaic, bringing together lawyers, politicians, academics, human rights activists, engineers and businessmen from a broad spectrum in contrast to Saddam Hussein's regime, which revolved around a Sunni Muslim clique from his hometown of Tikrit.
President Bush said Tuesday's announcement brought Iraq "one step closer" to democracy, but warned against a spike in violence as the date for the restoration of sovereignty draws near.
Security remains the primary threat facing the new government, which will rule until national elections by Jan. 31. The ceremony introducing the new government took place under tight security in the heavily guarded Green Zone headquarters of the U.S. occupation administration.
Heavily armed U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces ringed the two-story building where the ceremony was held. U.S. Army helicopters hovered above and snipers were stationed on the roof. Sniffer dogs searched for bombs. Those present included L. Paul Bremer, Iraq's American governor; U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi; and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.
During the ceremony, Allawi focused on security, saying he would ask Iraq's allies for help "in defeating the enemies of Iraq." He also pledged to strengthen the army and raise soldiers' pay. Iraq's security forces, he said, will be a "pivotal partner" with U.S. and other coalition troops in the fight to restore security.
Switching from Arabic to English for the benefit of coalition leaders in the audience, Allawi said: "We're grateful to the national alliance led by the Americans who have sacrificed so much to liberate us."
More than 800 U.S. service members have been killed since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
Coalition troops are fighting a Sunni insurgency in the capital and areas to the west and north as well as a Shiite revolt in Baghdad and in the south. Suicide bombings have claimed hundreds of lives across the nation.
The lack of security is blamed for everything from insufficient power supplies to a slow economic recovery.
"The world and your neighbors expect you to bring about security, stability for the people of Iraq who have suffered enough," Brahimi, the U.N. envoy, told the new government.
Tuesday's announcement capped four weeks of deliberations by Brahimi, the coalition, the Governing Council and thousands of Iraqis whose advice and views he sought.
The deadlock over the presidency delayed the Cabinet announcement by one day and threatened a rift with the Americans at a time when Washington is under pressure internationally to grant Iraqis full sovereignty.
According to Iraqi politicians, the Americans insisted that Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister, become president. Most of the Governing Council wanted al-Yawer, a 45-year-old engineer and tribal leader. Pachachi, an 81-year-old Sunni Muslim, told reporters he turned down the presidency for "personal reasons."
The two vice presidencies went to Ibrahim al-Jaafari, of the Shiite Muslim Dawa party, and Rowsch Shaways, speaker of parliament in the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq.
At the welcoming ceremony, al-Yawer pledged to rise "above sectarianism and divisions" and restore Iraq's "civilized face."
Al-Yawer has repeatedly spoken against the U.S.-led occupation, but never advocated violence.
During a recent television interview with Al-Arabiya, he said: "We blame the United States 100 percent for the security in Iraq. They occupied the country, disbanded the security agencies and for 10 months left Iraq's borders open for anyone to come in without a visa or even a passport."
Al-Yawer hails from the northern city of Mosul and has engineering degrees from Saudi Arabia's Petroleum and Minerals University and Georgetown University.
The presidency is a symbolic position, but al-Yawer — as the highest-ranking Sunni in the government — will likely hold considerable influence through his elaborate network of contacts among the tribes and clans of Iraq.
In contrast, Pachachi came from a family that produced several top politicians over the past 50 years but has no power base in Iraq after more than 30 years in exile in the United Arab Emirates. His ties to the Americans did not help his standing among Iraqis frustrated by and distrustful of the occupation.
The Bush administration official in Baghdad said the United States had no preference and was pleased with al-Yawer's selection.
One of the first tasks facing new government will be to negotiate an agreement governing the status and conduct of international troops after June 30. The Iraqis are seeking a greater say over operations of the 135,000 American troops and other coalition forces on Iraqi soil. The administration official in Baghdad said negotiations would begin "fairly soon."
Several key Iraqi figures, including Pachachi, were sharply critical of April's three-week Marine siege of Fallujah, a Sunni city west of Baghdad, in which hundreds of Iraqis died.
In the Cabinet, Kurdish official Hoshyar Zebari retained his post as foreign minister, and another Kurd, Barham Saleh, was named deputy prime minister for national security affairs.
Adel Abdel-Mahdi, an official of a powerful Shiite political party, was named finance minister; Hazem Shalan al-Khuzaei became defense minister; and Thamir Ghadbhan took over as oil minister.