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Iraq Transition

Kurdish leader sworn in as Iraqi president

Prime minister also nominated in new government

Jalal Talabani was sworn in Thursday as Iraq's new president.
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Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani is sworn in Iraq's new president.

Talabani pledges to run the government smoothly.
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's new president, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, took the oath of office Thursday, promising to help create a democratic government that represents his country's diverse population.

In one of his first acts, Talabani announced the nomination of Ibrahim al-Jaafari as prime minister, the top post in the new Iraqi government. Al-Jaafari is a Shiite Muslim who is leader of the Dawa Party.

The presidency is largely ceremonial.

Two new vice presidents also were sworn in Thursday: Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, and Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni Arab.

The three, known as the presidency council, selected al-Jaafari to be prime minister, effectively replacing interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who submitted a letter of resignation.

Iraqi officials said the resignation would take effect once the new government is up and running.

The 275-member National Assembly -- elected on January 30 -- is expected to vote on al-Jaafari and the rest of the transitional government leadership.

"We will rebuild the Iraqi government on principles of democracy, federation, pluralism, equal citizenship, respect for human rights, independence, sovereignty and the Islamic identity of the Iraqi government," Talabani vowed at the swearing-in ceremony.

"This will happen with national reconciliation and in a democratic way," he added, saying it will be "far from the racism and sectarianism" that characterized the regime of Saddam Hussein, who was toppled in the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Talabani also called for offering amnesty to insurgents.

Talabani called for bringing insurgents into the new government by offering amnesty.

"We must find a political and peaceful solution with Iraqis who have been led astray by terrorism and grant them an amnesty," he said, adding that they should be "invited to participate in the democratic process" even as they push for the withdrawal of foreign forces.

Later, at a news conference, he said the amnesty would not apply to people who have targeted innocent Iraqi civilians, mosques, holy sites and churches.

Talabani acknowledged the nation's most influential Shiite cleric, saying Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani helped prepare the environment for the new government and insisted on carrying out the historic elections in January.

Sunni participation urged

He also encouraged Sunni involvement, speaking to those concerned that Sunni Arabs would be underrepresented in the new government.

"We greatly hope that the Arab Sunnis will participate with us," Talabani said.

Talabani's election symbolizes a different Iraq from Saddam's regime, which persecuted Kurds.

The presidency council also must name a Cabinet, which the assembly has to approve.

Cabinet appointments have been allocated after weeks of political bargaining. Many positions have been decided, but it's unknown who will get some key posts, including chiefs of the oil and defense ministries.

The main goal of the transitional government is to write a permanent constitution that will be put to voters in a referendum this year. Once the constitution is approved, a permanent government will be elected.

Saddam watched from his jail cell as the assembly formally approved Talabani's candidacy Wednesday. Saddam was one of 12 "high-value detainees" held by the U.S. military who watched video of the session, said Bakhtiar Amin, interim minister of human rights. Talabani assumed the same title that Saddam once held. (Full story)

Bush sees 'momentous step'

President Bush called the assembly's actions this week "a momentous step forward in Iraq's transition to democracy."

"We look forward to working with this new government, and we congratulate all Iraqis on this historic day," Bush said in a written statement.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush had telephoned Talabani to offer congratulations and support.

CNN's Enes Dulami, Kevin Flower, Aneesh Raman and Nic Robertson contributed to this report.

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