At least 18 Iraqis killed in Iraq

As Iraqis awaited the final formation of their new national unity government, at least 18 people were killed and a police chief narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in attacks in the country's two largest cities Thursday.

Bombers also destroyed a small Sunni shrine near the volatile city of Baqouba, in an apparent reprisal attack less than a week after similar bombings heavily damaged six Shiite shrines in a mixed area where tensions are running high. No one was injured in the attacks. All the shrines have been, often the size of a room or small.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki said that he will unveil his new Cabinet to parliament this weekend, the first sign that the country may finally end weeks of wrangling over the formation of a government, a process that began in December with the election of a new parliament.

There are hopes that sharing power successfully among Iraq's majority Shiites and its minorities of Sunni Arabs and Kurds will help heal the sectarian rift underlying the relentless wave of violence that has swept Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion three years ago and open the way for the 130,000 American troops to begin returning home.

But talks were still under way on choices to head the critical ministries of interior and defense, which control the police and army respectively. Without an eventual agreement, no resolution is possible of the basic conflict between Shiites and Sunnis.

An al-Maliki spokesman said Wednesday that he would present the Cabinet at a parliament session Saturday, with or without a decision on those two posts.

"The government is almost completed. Only the interior and defense ministries remain," said the spokesman, Salah Abdul-Razaq. "If an agreement is not reached, the announcement will be made without these posts,” reports the AP.

I.L.