BAGHDAD (AP) â€” Parliament swore in a new Iraqi government Tuesday after nine months of bitter political haggling, solidifying the grip that Shiites have held on political power since Saddam Hussein's ouster while leaving open the question of whether the country's disgruntled Sunni minority will play a meaningful role.
The new government led by incumbent Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki got off to a shaky start as disagreements among coalition partners prevented al-Maliki from naming some of his more than 40 Cabinet ministers. And this fragile coalition must address enormous and pressing challenges such as the heavy cost of rebuilding from the devastation seven years of war has wrought and lingering sectarian tensions that periodically explode into violence.
Another urgent priority will be leading the country through the withdrawal of American troops, scheduled for the end of next year. More than 4,400 American troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis died in a war that has yet to bring stability and prosperity to this oil-rich Middle Eastern nation.
Lawmakers approved about 30 ministers including al-Maliki to form the new government. The remainder of the 42-member Cabinet is made up of acting ministers who will be replaced at a later date because of ongoing disputes between coalition partners.
"The most difficult task in the world is forming a national unity government in a country where there is a diversity of ethnic, sectarian and political backgrounds," al-Maliki said speaking before the vote.
He vowed to create a government that would combat terrorism, address the still-festering sectarian divisions and repair relations with neighboring, Sunni-dominated Arab countries, who are largely suspicious of the Shiite-led government.
The new Cabinet members were immediately sworn in following the nationally televised vote that approved them.
President Barack Obama called the government formation a "significant moment" in the country's history and a "major step forward." Obama also said it was a "clear rejection" of sectarian extremism.
A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described it as "a major step forward in Iraq's democratic progress" while calling on the new government to now get to work on national reconciliation, reconstruction and long-term stability.
Iraqis elections on March 7 did not give any single bloc a majority in the 325-member parliament, leading to nine months of political jockeying to form the new government. Although al-Maliki's coalition came in a close second to a Sunni-backed coalition led by former prime minister Ayad Allawi, it was al-Maliki who was able to eventually patch together the necessary support needed to keep his office.
The new government includes members of all of Iraq's major political and sectarian factions, including Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
The vote Tuesday was largely a display of unity that belies the still festering problems between the Shiite majority and the Sunni minority that used to make up the backbone of the insurgency. Sunnis dominated the regime under Saddam.
Allawi, who at one point had vowed to never join an al-Maliki-led government, told lawmakers ahead of the vote that his bloc of 91 lawmakers would support and cooperate with the new government.