Iraqi prime minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki said yesterday the main stumbling blocks to forming a new Cabinet have been overcome and he expects to present his team to parliament for approval by the end of the week.
Al-Maliki said representatives of the parties had agreed on who will head "the main posts" and that "just a few" ministries remain unfilled. Discussions were still under way on the nominees for the oil, trade and transportation ministries, he said.
He did not say who would get the other posts, including the key ministries of interior, which controls police, and defense, which runs the army.
US and British officials have insisted those posts go to people without ties to sectarian militias, believed responsible for many of the tit-for-tat killings of Sunnis and Shiites.
"The direction we took, and which was agreed upon by the political groups, was that the two who will occupy these posts be independent and unaffiliated with a party or a militia," he said.
Al-Maliki, a Shiite, said he "hoped and expected" to present the Cabinet to parliament by the end of the week. Parliament must approve each minister by a majority vote.
The news conference in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone came at a pivotal time for al-Maliki who has been struggling since he was nominated as prime minister last month to complete the final step in establishing the new Iraqi government.
The process has been riddled with ethnic and sectarian tension, and deadly attacks by insurgents, and al-Maliki has been working to balance the conflicting interests of Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish legislators.
Currently, the interior ministry, headed by Bayan Jabr, a Shiite, has come under criticism from the Sunnis who say that Shiite "death squads" are routinely targeting members of their community, further exacerbating a wave of reprisal sectarian attacks.
Sunni Arabs also have jockeyed for some of the key sovereignty ministries such as oil and finance.
But those posts had largely been allocated to the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite bloc with the largest number of seats in the parliament.
In addition, they have eyed the prominent foreign ministry, but lawmakers have repeatedly said that this portfolio will remain in the hands of the Kurds, who also hold the presidency.
Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the killing of an Iraqi reporter and a media worker whose bodies were discovered south of Baghdad on Monday, but violence continued in that volatile area of Iraq, with the discovery of the headless corpses of three Iraqi soldiers floating in the Tigris River, police said.
Laith al-Dulaimi, a reporter for the privately owned TV station Al-Nahrain, and Muazaz Ahmed Barood, a telephone operator for the station, were kidnapped by men disguised as police officers at Diyala Bridge while driving home to Madain, a town 19km southeast of Baghdad, said the station's general manager, Abdulkarim al-Mehdawi.
Their bodies were discovered at al-Wihda district, 32km south of Baghdad. Both men, in their late 20s, were shot in the chest, al-Mehdawi said.
Late Monday night, on the same day that al-Dulaimi's and Barood's bodies were found in the Madain area, the headless corpses of three Iraqi soldiers wearing their military uniforms were found floating in the Tigris River just south of Madain, said Hadi al-Itabi, an employee at the morgue in Kut city where the bodies were taken.