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Iraq Parliament Approves National-Unity Government

By Nayla Razzouk and Kadhim Ajrash

(Updates with al-Maliki comment in first paragraph, oil minister’s comments in fifth, sixth.)

Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Iraq’s parliament swore in the Cabinet nominees of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who promised “a government that would represent all entities making up the Iraqi people,” after nine months of post-election wrangling.

Al-Maliki will keep the defense, interior and national security posts and distribute three portfolios to other ministers until an agreement with other political groups is reached on nominees for all six, said the government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh. Thirty-six nominees had been put before lawmakers, the spokesman said in an interview from Baghdad before today’s parliamentary endorsement of the Cabinet lineup.

Parliament approved the nomination of Deputy Oil Minister Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi to head the Oil Ministry, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was backed to retain his post, while Deputy Prime Minister Rafih al-Issawi was approved to lead the Finance Ministry.

Political paralysis and disputes followed the March 7 parliamentary vote, which produced no clear winner. The formation of a new government coincides with preparations by the U.S. to withdraw its remaining troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. The Iraqi leadership will have to deal with violence, a struggling economy and long-standing disputes over internal boundaries and rights to the country’s oil and gas reserves.

Al-Luaibi

The new oil minister vowed today to pursue “ambitious” oil and gas exploration to increase output, helping to fund the state budget and improve living standards.

Al-Luaibi, in an interview with state-run al-Iraqiyah television after the new government was sworn in, said output at the country’s Rumailah field increased 10 percent in a year, instead of the planned three years.

Al-Luaibi, a political independent, oversaw two rounds of oil licenses last year, an Oil Ministry official, Sabah Abdel Kadhim al-Saadi, said in a telephone interview from Baghdad late yesterday. As deputy oil minister, al-Luaibi had been in charge of exploration and production. He graduated in petroleum studies from Baghdad University and worked at the Dora refinery, south of Baghdad, before becoming deputy oil minister, al-Saadi said.

Under the constitution, al-Maliki had 30 days in which to name a Cabinet after being asked to form a government for his second term in office by President Jalal Talabani on Nov. 25.

Al-Maliki had pledged to form his government by Dec. 15. The Shiite Muslim prime minister’s delay in announcing the Cabinet reflects difficulties in creating a government that includes all of Iraq’s ethnic and religious groups.

Role for Allawi

Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi had threatened several times not to participate in a al-Maliki-led government, claiming the premier had stolen the elections. His Iraqiyah bloc was backed mostly by Sunni Muslim and secular voters. As part of the coalition deal, Allawi was named to head the new National Council for Strategic Policies.

Maliki’s State of Law alliance won 89 seats in the March elections, while Iraqiyah secured 91 seats and Kurdish parties took 43. State of Law merged with former Shiite rivals afterward to form the Iraqi National Alliance, gaining a combined total of 159 seats, and was later able to draw in lawmakers from other groups to get the 163 seats needed for a governing coalition in the 325-seat parliament.

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