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Iraqi council names Cabinet of 25 members

BAGHDAD, IRAQ — BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council took a significant jump yesterday toward restoring self-rule when it named 24 men and one woman to a provisional Cabinet to take over the day-to-day running of the government from American occupiers.

Also yesterday, as a huge funeral procession for a beloved Shiite cleric marched to the holy city of Najaf, Arab television broadcast an audiotape purportedly from Saddam Hussein denying any involvement in the bombing that killed the moderate ayatollah.

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What power the council and the new ministers have remains vague, and many Iraqis view both as little more than fronts for foreign invaders. But the long-awaited creation of a new governing framework gave momentum to Iraqi demands to retake control of their country in the wake of three devastating acts of terrorism last month that left the impression that the U.S.-led coalition is unable to rule what it has conquered.

Some council members said the Cabinet should have been decided a month ago, and that its 25 portfolios were distributed more along ethnic and political lines than on abilities.

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But even those who saw the new government as imperfect celebrated its emergence and the hope it holds out that Iraqis can take care of their own affairs and hasten an end to the occupation, hated by many Iraqis.

Because the country remained in mourning after Friday's killing of a Shiite leader, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim, the Governing Council issued only a list of the 25 ministers' names -- most of them little-known figures or returned exiles -- without fanfare.

Still, the newly empowered politicians spoke about the need to roll up their sleeves and get down to the difficult work of rebuilding a government shattered by the U.S.-led war, then looted by criminals and left vulnerable to sabotage and violence by foreign terrorists and remnants of Hussein's regime.

"I'm not very satisfied with the way it happened, but at least it happened," Dr. Rajaa Habib Khuzai, an obstetrician from Diwaniyah, said of her fellow council members' focus on diversity over expertise. "I'm especially unhappy that there is only one woman minister."

But she said the deliberations went smoothly, and the wheels of government are turning -- a demonstration for Iraqis that progress is being made in recovering independence.

"This government will represent Iraq, and in due course our sovereignty will be restored," said Safeen Dzayi, a diplomat with the Kurdistan Democratic Party that inherited responsibility for foreign affairs.

The diplomatic portfolio will be an essential one, Dzayi said, as designated Foreign Minister Hoshiar Zubari, the party's spokesman and international-affairs adviser, will be the face Iraq that presents to a world that has changed substantially in the 12 years that this country was isolated and ostracized by sanctions.

Kurds won control of five ministries, and fellow Sunnis in the Arab community gained an equal number. One Turkman and one Assyrian Christian round out the Cabinet that will have a slight majority of 13 Shiites.

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The key Interior Ministry post went to Nuri Badran, a Shiite Arab aligned with Iraqi National Accord leader Iyad Allawi, the Governing Council member responsible for security matters.

Helping Iraq break out of the security vacuum is a major priority for the new governing bodies and the No. 1 demand and expectation of Iraqis sick of rampant crime and violence that has afflicted them in the six months since the U.S.-led invasion. Hussein released 30,000 prisoners on the eve of the war, and looters and saboteurs have had a free hand since the former army and police force disbanded.

L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. civilian administrator of Iraq, returned to Baghdad on Sunday and met with council members early yesterday to push them to announce their appointments despite the period of mourning, council members said.

The U.S.-led coalition is eager to see Iraqis take responsibility for their own affairs as soon as possible, said a senior coalition official. "But the Iraqis have their own terms as well," the official said. "They aren't going to accept us saying, 'Here's the baby, you change it.'" Indeed, council members have been taking a firmer stance against the occupational authorities.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that the voice on the tape appeared to be Hussein's and used his well-known rhetorical flourishes in urging Iraqis not to believe those who blamed him and his followers for the attack on the sacred Imam Ali shrine in Najaf that killed Hakim and 124 others.

"Many of you may have heard the snakes hissing, the servants of the invaders, occupiers, infidels, and how they have managed to accuse the followers of Saddam Hussein of responsibility for the attack on al-Hakim without any evidence," said the tape, broadcast by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite television station and the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp.

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"They rushed to accuse before investigating," the voice said.

While denying a role in the Najaf bombing, the voice made no mention of the Jordanian Embassy bombing Aug. 7 or the United Nations headquarters attack 12 days later, which investigators suspect may have been committed by Hussein followers. It was impossible to immediately authenticate the tape. The CIA said yesterday that it was reviewing the recording.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.


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