Americans Among 22 Dead in Baghdad Bombing

A car bomb at a busy intersection in central Baghdad kills 22 people, including at least two Americans. And the Iraqi government strikes a deal on unfilled Cabinet positions.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

In Baghdad today, a breakthrough for Iraq's newly formed government. Iraqi leaders have settled on who will fill the last open Cabinet-level positions in the new government. A vote by the full National Assembly is scheduled for Sunday. But also today, a Western convoy was hit by two suicide car bombers in central Baghdad. The US Embassy says 22 died in the attack including two American security contractors. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Baghdad.

Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON reporting:

Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: What can you tell us about these last appointments? We understand two Cabinet-level positions will go to Sunnis?

KENYON: Well, it looks that way, yes. There's a meeting of the Iraqi National Assembly tomorrow, and according to politicians, including one of the Cabinet ministers that I spoke with today, they'll be presented with a new list, the final list, everyone hopes, including a Sunni Defense minister, is probably the most prominent position. His name's Saadoun Dulaimi; he's part of a large Sunni tribe. And then over at the oil ministry, another key position; I spoke with a nominee today, Bahr Al-Ulaum. He was the original oil minister under the Iraqi Governing Council right after the war. Now his renaming may signal the end of the temporary reign of Shiite former exile Ahmad Chalabi, who's been the acting oil minister. That indirectly would be a relief to the Sunnis because Chalabi's been one of the fiercest proponents of de-Baathification, the elimination of Sunni Baath Party members under Saddam Hussein from any position of power in the new Iraq. So after a number of false starts, people here are hoping that this time the new government really will be on its feet.

WERTHEIMER: Now the power vacuum left by these protracted talks over the Cabinet makeup is being blamed in part for the wave of violence by insurgents that's left over 200 Iraqis dead in the past 10 days. If this agreement holds, does it look like that might help the government turn things around?

KENYON: Well, you're absolutely right. The frustration at the delaying and the dickering has been increasingly loud and angry, and it's not clear whether they can now turn things around, certainly not quickly. To take the defense minister as an example, Dulaimi is not beloved among all Sunnis. Some question his credentials, noting that he lived in exile from 1984 until the end of the US-led invasion in 2003. Others say he's the choice of the former president, Sunni tribe leader Ghazi al-Yawer, not necessarily the clans that Prime Minister al-Jafari should be trying to win over, those suspected of aiding the insurgency; their top choices have all been vetoed however. The hope, of course, is that bringing Sunnis into the process will help turn things around, but it's been such a process of fits and starts that it's really anyone's guess how quickly that turnaround could begin.

WERTHEIMER: Peter, can you tell us anything else about the car bombing today in Baghdad?

KENYON: Well, I've spoken with the US Embassy, and it was a pair of suicide car bombers on a crowded street near a girls' high school. Some students among the wounded, but the target--sport utility vehicles used by an American security contractor. The embassy says two American contractors were among the dead, a very large bombing in a crowded area. It's been the story ever since this new government was announced, from the north in Irbil to the south in Suwayrah and very often right here in Baghdad. Iraqis are hoping for improvement, but by no means certain that they'll get it.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks to NPR's Peter Kenyon, who was reporting from Baghdad.

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