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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Iraqi parliament again fails to vote on vacant ministries

Adel Abdul Mahdi yet to confirm ministers of defence, interior, justice and immigration, among others

Iraqi lawmakers are seen during the first session of the new Iraqi parliament in Baghdad in September. Reuters 
Iraqi lawmakers are seen during the first session of the new Iraqi parliament in Baghdad in September. Reuters 

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was unable to confirm the final members of his cabinet, when a parliament session descended into a shouting match.

MPs on Tuesday were set to vote on the remaining eight ministerial vacancies - a recurring stumbling block for the newly elected prime minister.

The session was cut short when MPs banged on tables shouting "illegitimate", eventually forcing and end to the meeting as Mr Abdul Mahdi and his proposed ministers left parliament. The MPs were mostly from a grouping led by populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr and allies on the list of former premier Haider Al Abadi, who opposed his picks for the hotly contested interior and defence ministries.

The decades-old rift between Iraq's political parties has resurfaced over the last six months, following the country's parliamentary elections in May and the rise to power of Mr Abdul Mahdi in October.

The new prime minister was appointed to form a ‘technocratic’ cabinet in a political structure where old names and nepotism is the norm, he has since been trying to confirm the ministers of defence, interior, justice and immigration, among others.

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But political jockeying has intensified in recent weeks as competing regional patrons vie for influence in a push-and-pull that has delayed cabinet formation a number of times. The country has now gone six months since an election that was aimed at steering the country towards recovery from years of war.

The new government faces the twin tasks of rebuilding the north of the country following the war against ISIS and rehabilitating services in the south, where severe water and electricity shortages have fueled protests.

Protests in the southern city of Basra resumed Tuesday, with hundreds of people demonstrating for improved services.

On Tuesday Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr called for the swift formation of a government, adding that he would not approve any candidate that is affiliated to the country’s political elite.

“I urge the prime minister to quickly fill the cabinet posts that are still vacant, except for the defence and interior position,” the cleric said on Twitter.

Parliament's deputy speaker, Hassan Al Kaabi, warned the vote could be disrupted. He said Mr Abdul Mahdi submitted overnight the names of eight candidates who were already rejected on an October session when parliament approved other Cabinet members.

The meeting was eventually postponed until later in the week after initially being paused while officials tried to restore order and ensure sufficient turnout to hold the vote.

Last month, parliamentarians confirmed 14 out of the 22 posts that Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi initially presented. Yet, eight ministers remain vacant.

In a letter to lawmakers ahead of the postponed session, Mr Abdul Mahdi said he can submit other names within two days if his proposals were rejected.