Iraq government in place, but key posts empty

Baghdad- Iraq’s parliament voted to confirm Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s new government on Thursday while leaving key Cabinet posts unfilled.

The legislature voted in an unruly session to confirm 14 of Abdul-Mahdi’s 22 Cabinet nominees, enough to ratify a government.

But lawmakers failed to vote on key appointments, including ministers of defence, justice and interior, underscoring the discord plaguing Iraqi politics.

Lawmakers from the Islah bloc – the largest in Parliament – complained that they were not given enough time to review the nominees, named only hours before the vote. Lawmakers were handed one page resumes to review for each.

“I’m voting for the ministers of Iraq and I don’t know if their degrees are genuine? If they don’t have a criminal record?” demanded lawmaker Sabah Al Saadi, who was cut off by Speaker Mohammad Al Halbousi in an attempt to keep order.

But the rushed process gave lawmakers the cover to reject nominees for political reasons, said political analyst Hamza Mustafa.

“It made them look like they were being objective, when in fact it was all about parties and deal making,” said Mustafa.

Only 220 lawmakers attended the session, leaving more than 100 seats empty in the 329-seat body.

Abdul-Mahdi, a former oil and finance minister, was designated prime minister on October 3, promising to install a government of “technocrats” to reform the country’s ailing public sector. Iraq is consistently ranked among the most corrupt countries globally, and frustration over chronic power cuts and water pollution sparked riots in the south this summer.

With the new Cabinet, he has partially filled his promise. His electricity minister, Luay Al Khateeb, is the executive director of a respected energy policy institute, the Iraq Energy Institute.

But other nominees had clear political ties. His nominee for Interior Ministry, Falih Al Fayadh, used to head the country’s Iran-linked Popular Mobilisation Forces militias before he was sacked from his position by the previous prime minister, Haidar Al Abadi.

His appointment did not come up for a vote.

Abdul-Mahdi nominated two women to his Cabinet. Lawmakers declined to vote on either.

None of the appointments were known to have come from the online application portal opened by Abdul-Mahdi to bring new faces into government. His office received over 15,000 applications in the span of less than a week, earlier this month.

Abdul-Mahdi will hold the portfolios of defence, justice, and others until parliament votes to approve his nominees. The lawmaking body is scheduled to reconvene on November 6, though there is no constitutional deadline to confirm the appointments.

Former Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki went without ministers of defence or interior for the whole of his second term, from 2010 to 2014.

Abdul-Mahdi and the 14 confirmed ministers were sworn in immediately after the vote.

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