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Iraq's parliament confirms cabinet ministers, but divisions remain

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By Reuters
Iraq's parliament confirms cabinet ministers, but divisions remain
FILE PHOTO - Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi attends the celebration ceremony of the first anniversary of defeating Islamic state in Baghdad, Iraq, December 10, 2018. Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office/Handout via REUTERS   -   Copyright  HANDOUT(Reuters)

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s parliament voted on Tuesday to approve three out of five ministers put forward by Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, ending weeks of political stagnation among the two largest parliamentary blocs.

The approval of the ministers brings Abdul-Mahdi one step closer to completing his cabinet, but major divisions over who will fill the remaining five posts have highlighted the weakness of his position.

Intensifying disagreements between the rival Islah and Bina blocs, led by populist Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Iran-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, have prevented the formation of a full government — which currently has just 17 out of 22 ministers.

Nuri al-Dulaimi, Qusay al-Suhail and Abdul Ameer al-Hamdani were confirmed to be ministers of Planning, Higher Education and Culture. They were approved after the Islah and Bina blocs agreed to allow a vote on five ministries.

The nominees for Minister of Education and Minister of Displacement and Migration — the only women to be nominated for cabinet positions so far — both failed to get enough votes, highlighting the continuing disarray over Abdul-Mahdi’s appointees.

At the heart of the weeks of fierce political infighting are the nominations of the ministers of interior and defence.

“We voted for the ministries which were not shrouded in disagreements,” said Sabah al-Ugaili, a lawmaker with the bloc led by Sadr.

“Three won confidence, and two did not because we are not satisfied the candidates were fit for the job. Now the ball is in Abdul-Mahdi’s court, to replace them with other names — including the defence and interior ministries.”

The deadlock over forming a cabinet has raised the prospect of further unrest as the country struggles to rebuild and recover after three years of war with Islamic State.

The last time parliament attempted to vote on the nominees on Dec. 4, angry MPs disrupted the session, banging on tables and shouting “illegitimate” before forcing it to end.

(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; writing by Raya Jalabi, editing by Ed Osmond)